From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
WASHINGTON -- Howard Dean said a public health insurance option is more important than bipartisanship, and that Democrats should pass health-care legislation that includes the option with 51 votes if necessary.
Dean added that Democrats should have "no intention" of working with Republicans if it's not the strongest possible legislation that could be passed with a simple majority.
"If Republicans want to shill for insurance companies, then we should do it with 51 votes," Dean said during a news conference at the first day of the liberal America's Future Now! conference here.
Dean, though, also praised what he called President Obama's "realist" approach to trying to pass health care reform.
"What I like about Barack Obama's plan is he's a realist," Dean said, adding that private insurers aren't going away and that polling shows people are generally happy with their private health care -- if they have it. He said it should be all about giving people a "choice" of signing up for a public option, but "on the other hand, you don't want to take something away either."
Dean repeated a line of the president's, giving him credit in doing so: "If you like what you have, you can keep it."
Dean told NBC News that he thinks the best way to pay for health care is through a carbon tax.
"It probably won't pass, but it's what they should do," Dean said of a carbon tax to benefit health care. That and other details of his "prescription" for health care will be laid out in a forthcoming book this summer.