Privately, Barack Obama strongly backs public option

By Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook
Tribune Newspapers
October 4, 2009
Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON – — Despite months of seeming ambivalence about creating a government health insurance plan, the Obama White House has launched an intensifying behind-the-scenes campaign to get divided Senate Democrats to take up some version of the idea in the weeks just ahead.

President Barack Obama has long advocated a so-called public option, while at the same time repeatedly expressing openness to other ways to offer consumers a potentially more affordable alternative to health plans sold by private insurers.

But now, senior administration officials are holding private meetings almost daily at the Capitol with senior Democratic staff to discuss ways to include a version of the public plan in the health care bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to bring to the Senate floor later this month, according to senior Democratic congressional aides.

Among those regularly in the meetings are Obama’s top health care adviser, Nancy-Ann DeParle, aides to Reid, and Senate finance and health committee staff, both of which developed health care bills.

At the same time, Obama has been reaching out personally to rank-and-file Senate Democrats, telephoning more than a dozen lawmakers in the last week to press the case for action.

Administration officials are also distributing talking points and employing other campaign-style devices to rally support for passing a bill this fall.

The White House initiative, unfolding largely out of public view, follows months in which the president appeared to defer to senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill as they labored to put together gargantuan health care bills.

It also marks a critical test of Obama’s command of the inside game in Washington in which deals are struck behind closed doors and wavering lawmakers are cajoled and pressured into supporting major legislation.

“The challenge is to go to the (Senate) floor, hold the deal,” said Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist who was chief of staff to former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. But “they are more involved than people think. They have a plan and a strategy, and they know what they want to get and they work with people to get it.”

With the Senate Finance Committee wrapping up work on its legislation and moving toward a formal committee vote this week, senior Democrats in the House and Senate are furiously working on detailed compromises to ensure enough Democratic votes to pass health care bills out of the two chambers later this month.

The full story is here.

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