PUBLIC OPTIONS, CO-OPS, AND MCCONNELL CARE…. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether the president would reject any health care reform package that lacked a public option. Gibbs replied that the administration is reluctant, at this point, to draw “quite that strong a red line.” The response prompted speculation that the White House might be backing away from a public option, soon after Obama announced his clear support for the policy.

For what it’s worth, it sounds like the administration’s position on a public option appeared strong this morning.

A public option would be similar to the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs and, by competing with plans offered by private insurers, the White House hopes it would help to lower the cost of coverage throughout the market.

“Competition is a good thing . . . Choice and competition is what we want,” Sebelius told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King Sunday.

“The president does not want to dismantle privately owned plans. He doesn’t want the 180 million people who have employer coverage to lose that coverage. He wants to strengthen the marketplace.”

As for the chamber that has to get the legislation to the president’s desk, Senate “centrists” continue to balk at a public option. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is talking up his approach of structuring co-operatives for health care coverage, instead of a public option, and both Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voiced praise for this approach, while rejecting any kind of public plan.

Conrad told CNN that health care will need 60 votes — reconciliation, he said, will “not work” — and it’s not “possible” for a public option to garner a filibuster-proof majority. (Co-ops, by the way, remain an inadequate substitute for real reform.)

And then there was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), arguing on “Face the Nation” that reform would create government control, hurt the economy, force Americans to get government permission before receiving health procedures, yada, yada, yada.

It was a reminder why policy negotiations with GOP leaders tend to be pointless.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.