- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 6, 2009

White House officials said Sunday that President Obama is not going to put a government-run health insurance program at the heart of the overhaul plan he wants Congress to pass, as he tries to refocus the conversation on addressing concerns of the Americans who already have insurance.

White House adviser David Axelrod said 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 it has since threatened the viability of health care reform amid concerns over cost and the government’s role in health care.

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

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. Until now, the debate has centered on creating the public option to help cover the approximately 46 million people without insurance.

Mr. Obama does not plan to issue a veto threat on a bill without the provision, White House spokesman 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 the approximately 160 million Americans who have insurance coverage through their employer. He will show how his reform plans will give stability and security to people with coverage, 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 the moderate 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 CNN’s “State of the Union” that a public option won’t pass the Senate unless it’s a trigger.

Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat and member of the Progessive Caucus, reiterated on “This Week” that caucus members in the House won’t support a bill without a “robust” public option. She opposes a trigger.

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

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