The behind-the-scenes lobbying for a public option

THE BEHIND-THE-SCENES LOBBYING FOR A PUBLIC OPTION…. We learned over the weekend that, at this point in the process, President Obama “strongly” supports a public option and has launched “an intensifying behind-the-scenes campaign” in the hopes of getting the provision included in the reform bill. (The LA Times ran a big story on this today, and it’s getting lots of attention, but it’s the same piece the Chicago Tribune ran yesterday.)

According to the report, “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.” This has included some direct calls between the president and wavering lawmakers, in which he “continues to talk up the public option” to skeptical members.

Greg Sargent reports this afternoon that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is also “working behind the scenes to sell moderates on a public option” and the Senate leader “believes that some form of it will survive in the final combined Senate bill.”

“As we begin the important work of merging the health reform proposals, Senator Reid will be talking to every member of our Caucus about how to put together the best possible bill that can garner 60 votes,” Reid’s office said in a statement emailed my way.

“There are a number of issues that are being discussed and debated internally — the public option included,” the statement continued. “Reid continues to believe that at the end of the day, some form of a public option that creates competition and lowers costs for consumers will be included in any Senate proposal.”

All things being equal, this sounds pretty good. At this point, I was more or less expecting Democratic leaders to start lowering expectations, and preparing the party base for a letdown on the public option. Instead, most of the rhetoric seems to be pointing in the other direction, and the reported efforts of the leadership and the White House is no doubt contributing to the Democratic centrists who now seem less willing to break ranks.

But it’s still wise to temper one’s enthusiasm. For one thing, the distance between here and the finish line is still pretty long. For another, as we recently learned, “some form of a public option” can mean different things. Reid conceded last week that “public option” is a “relative term.”

Taken together, put me down for “cautious optimism.”