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US Sen. Chris Dodd (Christine Stuart photo)

U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid will meet again Monday with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and administration officials to continue negotiating the merger of the two Senate healthcare bills.

The one that came out of the Senate Finance Committee, which does not include a public option, and the one that came out of the HELP Committee, which does include a public option.

Outside the CT Works Center in Hartford Friday Dodd reiterated his support for a public option.

“That’s one that allows you to have a private market and competition,” Dodd said. “When you’re living in a state with only one company that sells insurance that’s not competition, that’s not choice.”

“Medicare, VA benefits, Tri-Care, these are all public options we have,” Dodd said. “We’re not exactly breaking new ground here with this idea.”

One of his Republican opponents, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons criticized Dodd for meeting with Reid and Baucus behind closed doors to reconcile the two bills.

“With so much at stake, it is critical that Congress make public any side negotiations and conference committee meetings to determine the final content of national health care legislation,” Simmons said in an emailed statement. “This debate and its final product should be conducted in public under the watchful eye of the American people.”

Simmons said Congress should speak out against the closed door negotiations and, “reassure Americans that we will not accept a process that allows for backroom deals cut by a select few.”

“There’s nothing closed door about this,” Dodd said. “I had the longest public markup in the history of that committee.” He said 161 amendments offered by Republicans were part of the bill and comprised over half of the amendments offered on the bill that came out of the HELP Committee. The Finance Committee spent equally that amount of time, Dodd said.

He said the criticism over negotiations happening behind closed doors is a “silly argument.”

Orrin Hatch, the Republican Senator from Utah, “has been behind more closed doors than anyone I know in the Senate,” Dodd said. “I sat with Orrin for five weeks all he ever said was, ‘No’….That’s not an answer for healthcare.”

“What is unacceptable, as hard as this is, is the status quo,” Dodd said. “This is a budget fix that should have been done years ago, it’s got to be done.”

Extending unemployment benefits

As for unemployment insurance benefits, Dodd said the U.S. Senate is looking to extend them an additional 14 weeks.

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Tom Phillips, president and CEO of Capital Workforce Partners (Christine Stuart photo)

There are nearly 2 million jobless workers throughout the country who are in danger of losing their benefits by the end of the year. The Senate proposal would give unemployed workers in all 50 states, 14 additional weeks of unemployment. Unemployed workers in state with an unemployment rate greater than 8.5 percent will receive an additional six weeks on top of that.

Connecticut’s unemployment rate is 8.1 percent, so it will unemployed workers will only receive the additional 14 weeks.

Tom Philips, president and CEO of Capital Workforce Partners, said 8.1 percent is the official unemployment rate in the state, but it doesn’t count all the people who have settled for part-time jobs. He said the actual unemployment rate is probably 8 to 9 percent higher than 8.1 percent.

An estimated 15,000 people in Connecticut have exhausted their unemployment insurance over the past three weeks and thousands more will join them if an extension isn’t approved, Dodd said.

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Harry Oram (Christine Stuart photo)

One of those is Harry Oram of West Haven.

Oram works in the construction business which has been hit hard by the current recession. He’s worked 10 weeks over the past year.

“We’re not looking for a handout. We want to work. We want to take care of our families,” Oram said.

He said the $465 per week unemployment check isn’t going to pay the heating oil bill. He said it requires families to make tough choices about which bill they will pay this month.

Dodd on McMahon’s wrestling business

“I’ll let the Republican opponents deal with her on that,” Dodd said. “I just want to take credit for …bringing stimulus money to the state.”

“The media outlets in the state are benefiting directly as a result of my candidacy,” Dodd joked referring to the amount of money his opponent has spent and plans to spend on campaign advertising.

Earlier in the day, Colleen Flanagan’s spokeswoman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, sent out an email criticizing the WWE’s programming decisions. McMahon was CEO of the wrestling empire, but resigned in September to mount her U.S. Senate campaign.