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White House Is Seeking to Repair Intraparty Rift About Public Option
Republicans signaled Tuesday that dropping the public option would not garner additional GOP backing. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the second-ranking Senate Republican leader, criticized an alternative idea of creating a private insurance cooperative, calling it a "Trojan horse" that was effectively the same as the public option.
"It doesn't matter what you call it, they want it to accomplish something Republicans are opposed to," he said.
Kyl's comments came as other conservative Republicans joined in to bash the co-ops idea. Rep. Tom Price (Ga.) said, "A co-op that is simply another name for a public option, or government-run plan, will be rejected by the American people."
One Democratic strategist involved in coordinating the pro-reform message among many like-minded groups said the Republican response was predictable.
"We were always concerned about leading with our glass jaw," he said. "We felt we probably shouldn't make health-care reform be about this because it falls so easily into the socialized medicine, big-government theme."
Groups pushing for a public plan urged the White House on Tuesday to stick to its guns.
"They made a decision in June to be more public in their support for the public option," Kirsch said. "I think that was the right decision. They should stick with that, because it keeps their base with them."
One Democratic Obama ally lamented that the push for a public plan has become synonymous with victory on health-care reform.
"In the last 90 days, it has taken on an aura much more pronounced than it did the first four months of the year," said the activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss White House strategy. He said Obama's advisers have stoked the controversy this week by creating the perception they were abandoning the public plan.
"If they made a mistake, it does go back to what I consider some inartfully framed phrases from the president and some other administration officials," the activist said. "To get where they had to go, they didn't have to depart too much from the language of June and July."
Jim Kessler, a vice president at the nonpartisan Third Way think tank, said that to the public, the health-care debate appears to be a "muddle." But the fierce sparring over the opposition may signal progress on the legislative front. He said: "We always knew this was going to be decided near the end."
Staff writers Perry Bacon Jr., Anne E. Kornblut and Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.