WASHINGTON -- Following the passage of the Senate health reform bill Thursday, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) slammed the special deals President Obama and the Democratic leadership cut with recalcitrant senators down the stretch.
"The Senate health care bill is far from perfect," Feingold said in a statement backing the bill. "I am deeply disappointed it does not include a public option to help keep down costs and I also don’t like the deal making that secured votes with unjustifiable provisions."
Feingold's criticisms appear to be directed primarily at the leadership's acquiescence to the recent demands of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NB) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) -- both of whom were critical to achieving the 60 backers necessary to proceed to a final vote.
Nelson's sweetener exempted his home state of Nebraska to pay Medicaid expenses, instead ensuring that the federal government picks up the tab. The Congressional Budget Offices estimates that it will save Nebraska hundreds of millions of dollars in the next decade.
Prosecutors in seven states have questioned the Constitutionality of such a compromise, the Associated Press reports.
Lieberman's highly controversial deal was the removal of the popular public insurance option, which he staunchly refused to support. The Medicare buy-in compromise Democrats planned was also scrapped when Lieberman promised to filibuster it, too.
Democrats also cut a deal with the more conservative Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) that granted her state an additional $100 million in Medicare subsidies. Republicans dubbed it the "new Louisiana Purchase."
Feingold's statement on Thursday reflects his criticism towards Obama from the weekend for not backing the public option vigorously enough.
"Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle," Feingold said on Saturday.
Feingold was a vocal champion of the public option but he still voted for the legislation, explaining that "[d]espite the bill's flaws, it does meet the test of real reform, and the cost of inaction was much too high." He described its benefits for his constituents in a video released Wednesday.
Feingold also pledged to try and bring back the highly popular public insurance plan in conference committee.
"I will work to improve the bill, including restoring the public option, when the final version is drafted," Feingold said Thursday.
But the prospects for a public plan revival in the final bill are dim, even though it's included in the House legislation.
The merged bill will require the support of 60 senators to pass another cloture motion. With no Republicans on board either way, every Democratic and Independent vote is critical, and several -- including Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NB) -- have refused to back the public option.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), one of the earliest opponents of the provision, has said the final bill will look very similar to the Senate version.
The legislation has faced heated criticism from progressives since Democrats agreed to jettison the public option and short-lived Medicare buy-in idea. As a result, some liberal activists -- such as Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake -- turned fiercely against it.
One common criticism from pro-reform activists was that without a public plan and with a mandate, the bill was essentially a giveaway to insurance companies, forcing tens of millions of Americans to purchase their product.
But a number of progressive writers and policy wonks urged passage of the legislation regardless of the public option's removal. Among them were New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and the public plan's own intellectual father, Jacob Hacker of Yale.