President Obama Talks to House Liberal Leaders About Public Option

By Lindsey Ellerson

Sep 4, 2009 5:49pm

Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:

President Obama spoke with liberal Democratic leaders of the House this afternoon to discuss their push for a government-run public health care plan.

Yesterday members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus wrote to the president that any health care reform bill that doesn’t include a “robust” public option will be “unacceptable.”

“Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates-not negotiated rates-is unacceptable," wrote co-chairs Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.

The leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., wrote to the president that members of the CBC “are deeply concerned about the current discussions surrounding health care reform and the possibility that current components of the bill – such as a robust public option and myriad health disparity elimination provisions – may be stricken in order to lower its cost to about $500 billion.”

Speaking to Grijalva, Woolsey, Lee, as well as leaders of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, President Obama mostly listened to the lawmakers, sources told ABC News.

Obama asked for them to define what they meant by a “robust” public option; he was told to stress similarities between the public option and Medicare. The members of Congress said people aren’t getting the correct information about what health care reform and the public option would be. If they understood the similarities, those with health insurance too, how that would drive down their costs, they might be more in favor it, they said.

The president supports the idea of a public option, but not as a way to get to a single-payer health care, sources say. He sees it as a means to an end — the president will sign a bill that has a way to lower costs, keep insurance companies honest, and increase competition – it remains to be seen whether that would be a public option, a public option with a trigger mechanism that would kick in if certain benchmarks aren’t met, or non-profit co-ops.

The president made no commitments, sources said, emphasizing that the Democratic caucus is a diverse one, and he’s trying to gauge where different factions of the party are and take all views in.

In a statement, Woolsey said, “The president listened, asked many questions, and suggested that the dialogue should continue. A follow-up meeting between the president and caucus leaders will take place next Tuesday or Wednesday at the White House.”

-Jake Tapper and Sunlen miller

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