Obama Attempts to Quell Liberal Revolt

Sep 4, 2009 6:24pm

Even as the White House looks for ways to win over moderate Senate Democrats, the president is taking steps to quell the revolt brewing on his left. My colleague, Teddy Davis, has more: President Obama spoke by phone Friday afternoon with several liberal lawmakers who are adamant about health reform legislation including what they describe as a "robust public option." "He asked us very directly what we mean by a 'robust public option.' He asked us to define it. What are the elements?" Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., one of the participants in the call, told ABC News. Lee told the president that she envisions the public option being very similar to Medicare, the existing federal program for Americans over 65, and she encouraged him to directly compare the public option to Medicare when he addresses a joint session of Congress next week. The president did not commit to backing a public option along the lines of Medicare. He did, however, reiterate his support for the concept of a government plan which would compete with private insurers. "He said he still deeply cares about a public plan," said Lee. Obama's conversation with the leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will continue next week when he meets with the leadership of the various groups on Tuesday or Wednesday at the White House. Friday's talk came one day after members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus sent the president a letter telling him that any health reform bill that does not include a "robust" public option will be "unacceptable." The president's outreach to some of the most liberal members of his own party comes as he is simultaneously trying to win the support of a handful of moderate Senate Democrats who have been weary of endorsing a public option. While liberals think that a public option would control costs and promote consumer choice, conservatives fear that a public option which operates similar to Medicare would drive private insurers out of business by underpaying providers. One possible compromise that is receiving increasing attention lately is the idea of establishing a "public option with a trigger," a government plan which would only come into effect if affordable private insurance was not available. Lee said that Friday's conversation also covered legislative efforts to address health disparities among Americans of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. While the bulk of the talk focused on policy, Lee said that the president did acknowledge the diversity of viewpoints within the Democratic caucus. "We talked a little bit about the political dynamics of the different caucuses, the different constituencies," said Lee. "He did acknowledge it, he recognizes the differences." "I don't think there is a compromise right now that everyone can accept," she added. "We have to work through this." 

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