EMANUEL SEES A NEGOTIABLE PATH…. President Obama has repeatedly and publicly touted the advantages of a full public option in health care reform. His chief of staff, however, signaled yesterday that the White House remains flexible.

It is more important that health-care legislation inject stiff competition among insurance plans than it is for Congress to create a pure government-run option, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said.

“The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest,” he said in an interview. “The goal is non-negotiable; the path is” negotiable.

Specifically, Emanuel told the WSJ that a “trigger” would be consistent with the administration’s goals. The paper reported, “Emanuel said one of several ways to meet Mr. Obama’s goals is a mechanism under which a public plan is introduced only if the marketplace fails to provide sufficient competition on its own.”

We talked about the problem with “triggers” last week, but Emanuel has to realize he’s making some provocative moves here. Dems in both chambers have been very cool to the trigger idea. As recently as Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said a public option “has to be available, on the first day, to everybody … so there shouldn’t be a trigger.”

For what it’s worth, Emanuel’s remarks notwithstanding, the White House issued a statement this morning, quoting the president as saying, “I am pleased by the progress we’re making on health care reform and still believe, as I’ve said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest. I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals.”

The key, apparently, are those last five words — achieving the goals. If Congress wants to keep the insurance companies honest, bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality without a public option, Obama’s listening.

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.