- The Washington Times - Monday, September 7, 2009

White House officials said Sunday that President Obama is not going to put the government-run health insurance program at the heart of the overhaul plan he wants Congress to pass, though two liberal House members hinted that they would rather have no bill than a bill that doesn’t have the provision.

White House adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the president believes in the value of the public insurance option, but “it shouldn’t define the whole health care debate, however.”

The plan was designed to compete with private insurers and is a necessity to liberal members of his party, but has since threatened the viability of health care reform amid concerns over cost and the government’s role in health care.

Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, reiterated their interest in the public plan, threatening to vote down any bill without it.

“I’m hoping that he understands the essentiality of the public option,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat and vice chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The president “said he preferred a public option. So we’re trying to give him the political backing he needs to get what he prefers, which I think is the right thing.”

When asked by host John King whether liberal Democrats should vote for a bill that has no public option “or should progressives say, ‘No, that’s not real reform’ and walk away?” Mr. Ellison responded that “progressives should say it’s not real reform” and added that a refusal to support a bill would not be their fault.

“Why should the progressives, why should the liberals always cave?” he asked, blaming a hypothetical failure to pass any bill on “the insurance industry and people in Congress who are beholden to them stopping reform.”

Mr. Axelrod said the president plans to use his Wednesday speech to a joint session of Congress to refocus the overhaul debate on proposals that will help people who already have insurance.

The president will try to convince Americans with coverage that reform will help them, too, by keeping premiums from rising dramatically in the future. Until now, the debate has centered on creating the public option to help cover an estimated 46 million people without insurance.

Mr. Obama does not plan to issue a veto threat on a bill without the provision, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on ABC’s “This Week.” But he does plan to draw lines in the sand.

Viewers will leave the speech “knowing exactly where the president stands,” he said, adding that the president is “ready, willing and able” to do whatever it takes to pass health care reform.

Mr. Obama, in the early days of the reform debate, said any bill he signs must have the insurance exchanges, including the public option. Now, he plans to shift the conversation to about 160 million Americans who have insurance coverage through their employers. He will show how his reform plans will give stability and security to people with coverage and prevent premiums from raising higher than the rate of inflation, Mr. Axelrod said.

Meanwhile, the so-called trigger option appeared to be gaining momentum as an alternative to the straight public option.

The compromise proposal, put together by Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, would give insurance companies a set amount of time to bring down health care costs. If they don’t comply, a public plan would be created.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat and an important moderate vote, said on “State of the Union” that a public option won’t pass the Senate unless it’s on a trigger.

But while Democrats may not have the votes in the Senate to pass a bill with a government-insurance option, that proposal has much more support in the House.

Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat and member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, reiterated on ABC’s “This Week” that her caucus members in the House won’t support a bill without a “robust” public option and said she opposes a trigger.

“I’m not for five more years of the health insurance companies ripping off the public,” she said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said last week that a bill “without a strong public option will not pass the House.”

Mrs. Waters said Congressional Progressive Caucus members “support what the president has said all along he’d like to see, and that is a robust public option. He campaigned on it. He continues to talk about his support for it. And we’re going to stand behind him.”

She also said the effort to get a bipartisan bill was futile since “the Republicans are not going to support a credible health care reform bill led by the president or the Democrats. We’re not going to get their support.

“I appreciate the work that’s been done by the president to try and get a bipartisan bill, but there will be no bipartisan bill,” she concluded.

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