White House still on board with public option

WHITE HOUSE STILL ON BOARD WITH PUBLIC OPTION…. It’s hard to know with certainty what White House officials are saying during closed-door negotiations or private chats in the Oval Office. But there’s been quite a bit of speculation about whether, and to what extent, the president and his team are pushing for a public option as part of health care reform.

A Politico report said President Obama “indicated” yesterday to the Senate Democratic leadership that “he supports a public option with a trigger.” What about the state opt-out compromise? The president is leaving that to leaders on the Hill as “a question of legislative strategy.”

So, is the White House faltering on the issue? I rather doubt it.

As questions swirl about the number of votes in the House for several versions of the public option, varying in strength, Deputy White House Secretary Bill Burton said that President Barack Obama is working on votes in the Senate.

“I will say that the president continues to think that the public option is the best way to achieve choice and competition, and that’s what he’s working toward,” Burton said during a press gaggle on Air Force One this morning.

Later, in the same briefing, a reporter asked about vote counts, prompting Burton to repeat, “… I will say that the president continues to think that the public option is the best way to achieve choice and competition, and that’s what he’s working towards.”

Granted, this isn’t exactly a bold pronouncement, but at this point, it’s definitely a good thing to have the White House continue to re-emphasize its support for a public option.

What’s more, while many reformers found Valerie Jarrett’s remarks on “Meet the Press” the other day discouraging, she told MSNBC this morning that the president is “committed to the public option” and that the White House “would keep pushing until the very last moment.”

Update: On the other hand, Brian Beutler, citing “multiple sources,” reports that Harry Reid is “very close” to having 60 votes for a public option with an opt-out, but the Majority Leader is facing some pushback from the White House, which is touting Olympia Snowe’s trigger compromise measure instead.

If so, the White House is making a dreadful mistake. If the Senate can deliver a public option with an opt-out, that’s a deal Obama should embrace in a hearbeat. The trigger option is considerably worse, and to promote it as preferable, simply to secure Snowe’s vote, is crazy.

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Steve Benen

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.