Liberals Warn Obama Not to Drop Public Option

Obama may eliminate certain parts of overhaul effort to get health bill passed.

August 17, 2009, 9:09 AM

Aug. 17, 2009 -- The president's liberal allies on health care reform have a message for the president: Don't think you can drop the public option without a fight.

"If the president thinks we're gonna get the votes without the public option, he's got another thing coming. That won't pass the House," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.

Over the weekend, the President changed his tone on whether a final health care reform bill had to include a public option -- something that just two months ago, he indicated was a deal-breaker.

"Any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange…including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest," Obama said on June 23.

Weiner said while the White House may be able to pick up one or two senators by forgoing the public option, it will lose 100 Democratic votes in the House

"I think that we have a majority of the votes in the house and Senate for a public plan. It won't be easy but I think they're there. But they're certainly not gonna be there if every time we turn around there's another White House official walking away from it," Weiner said.

Weiner indicated that some in the president's own party feel betrayed after supporting him on health care reform and then taking lumps from constituents.

"Some of us who have gotten roughed up pretty good at town hall meetings and stuck in there because we believe in this, now kind of feel like we have a tire track on our chest where the bus that rolled over us is," Weiner said.

A government-run public health insurance option has long been a centerpiece of President Obama's plans for health care reform.

But over the weekend, Obama changed his tone and signaled that he is backing away from such a plan.

"The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it," he said in Grand Junction, Colo.

This comment has the president's liberal allies questioning if he can achieve cost savings from private insurance companies without a public option as competition and sparked a firestorm of criticism from liberal Democrats.

White House officials say their position on the public option is just pragmatism -- and understanding that it is a lightning rod for critics.

Administration officials dispute the notion that Obama has backed off anything, noting that the president has always believed the public option is the best way to lower costs, but is not drawing any lines in the sand.

"His preference is a public option. If there are other ideas, he's happy to look at them," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters this evening.

Gibbs said that there has been "a boring consistency" in the administration's rhetoric on this issue.

One compromise being worked out in the Senate is for the creation of non-profit insurance co-ops that individuals could buy into. The plans would be run by those individual members, not the government, and would compete with traditional private insurance.

But House Democrats say the co-ops are not strong enough to compete with private insurance companies and as a result, will not bring down costs.

Dropping Public Option May Be the Only Way to Pass Health Care Bill

This will be a delicate dance for the president, but dropping these provisions might be the only way to get the bill passed.

On the Sunday interview show circuit, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., declared little chance left for the public option.

"There are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option, there never have been," Conrad said on Fox News Sunday. "So to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is a wasted effort."

Earlier today, Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars' national convention in Phoenix today, sticking mainly to foreign policy, as his allies in Washington assess how much the White House raised the white flag on some key provisions of the health care bill in order to get it passed when Congress reconvenes in a few weeks.

While the president toured the Grand Canyon with his family Sunday, members of his administration made rounds addressing the chasm between what they want in the proposed health care overhaul and what they can get passed.

Facing false charges of a death panel rationing life-saving care and killing off seniors, the administration says the end-of-life care provisions in the bill may be eliminated.

Responding to critics who say they're uneasy about end-of-life care being discussed within the context of cost, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insisted "it isn't about cost-cutting."

"We wanted to make sure doctors were reimbursed for that very important consultation if family members chose to make it, and it's been turned into this scare tactic and probably will be off the table," Sebelius said Sunday on "This Week."

Such a sentiment comes even though the president made a personal pitch on the issue.

"I just lost my grandmother last year. I know what it's like to watch somebody you love who's aging deteriorate," Obama said Sunday at a town hall meeting in Colorado. "So the notion that, somehow, I ran for public office or members of Congress are in this so that they can go around pulling the plug on grandma, I mean, when you start making arguments like that, that's simply dishonest."

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