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Dems search for public option fix

From NBC's Ken Strickland
Senate Democratic aides say that Majority Leader Harry Reid and his leadership team have begun searching for a fix on the public option. At least four Democratic Senate moderates made it clear this weekend they would block the final passage if it included the current version of a government-run insurance program.

As Reid needed 60 votes to get the bill on the floor, he'll also need 60 votes to pass it -- every member of his Democratic caucus. But drawing his moderate members into the fold may simultaneously push out liberals.

After Sen. Mary Landrieu gave a speech on Senate floor Saturday voicing her support to start debating the bill, she told a small gaggle of reporters the failure to find a compromise with centrists could "blow up the whole effort."

"I believe it's going to be very clear at some point very soon that there are not 60 votes for the current [public option] provision in the bill," she said. "And that the leader and the leadership are going to have to make a decision. And I trust they will figure out how to do that."

Democratic sources say the leadership has started feeling out the caucus for two possible compromises. 

One alternative, called "the trigger" or "fallback," has been offered by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. Under her plan, if private insurance failed to offer affordable insurance by a certain time, a non-profit public insurance plan would kick-in or be triggered in that state. The White House has been supportive of Snowe's proposal in the past.

The other alternative is offered by Democratic Sen. Tom Carper. He calls his plan "the hammer." While admitting it's a work in progress, it would work like Snowe's trigger concept but would also allow states to opt into a public plan. (The bill before the Senate would let state's opt-out.)

While such compromises have drawn favorable attention from Landrieu and other moderates, Joe Lieberman has vowed to filibuster the final bill if it contains a public option in any form: trigger, hammer, or any other government sponsored health-care tool.

A compromise with moderates could also backfire against some Senate liberals. In a statement released Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, "I strongly suspect that there are number of senators, including myself, who would not support final passage without a strong public option."