White House aides reaffirm public option is not mandatory

Rahm Emanuel said the public option is
Rahm Emanuel said the public option is "not the defining piece of health care," but Sen. Christopher J. Dodd said he will continue to push to include it in the Senate bill. (Karin Cooper - AP)
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By Ceci Connolly
Monday, October 19, 2009

The television airwaves were filled Sunday with rat-a-tat over reforming the nation's health-care system, as top administration officials hit the talk show circuit and interest groups waged a record advertising blitz.

President Obama's team, preparing for an intense round of private negotiations on Capitol Hill, used public appearances to set the parameters for the negotiations.

Obama continues to support the concept of a government-sponsored insurance option, but "he is not demanding that it is in" the final legislation, Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He thinks it's the best possible choice."

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, in two television appearances, noted that the public option could provide much-needed competition, but that "it's not the defining piece of health care."

Liberal lawmakers such as Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who is involved in the negotiations, said they will push for the government option to be included in the bill that goes to the Senate floor. "I haven't given up on this," Dodd said on NBC.

Advocacy groups also pressed the case in television and print ads. In one spot airing on several networks, the liberal coalition Health Care for America Now calls out "huge insurance companies driving prices up."

"We need real competition to lower costs," the commercial concludes. "We need the choice of a public health insurance option."

Obama aides conceded that they may not have the votes in the Senate for the provision.

"There are people in the Senate -- Republicans and Democrats -- who have objections to that," senior White House adviser David Axelrod said on ABC's "This Week."

The notion of a public insurance alternative has divided Democrats for months. It remains a major sticking point, though it would affect only the fraction of Americans who work in small businesses or buy coverage on their own.

Proponents argue that a nonprofit plan with lower administrative fees and executive salaries could provide more-affordable coverage. Industry leaders and some lawmakers in both parties fear it would lead to a government-run health system and would force private companies out of business.

As Obama has inched closer to enacting his top legislative priority, his allies and the insurance industry have grown increasingly hostile. Administration aides lambasted the industry after it released two reports last week that said private insurance premiums would probably increase under the bills circulating in Congress.

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