WH: PUBLIC OPTION LACKS NECESSARY CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT…. There’s been ample speculation in recent days about where the White House stands on the public option, and how far it’s willing to go to help make it happen. Last week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the administration would “absolutely” support the provision if that’s what lawmakers decided to pursue, and yesterday, Robert Gibbs said the issue is up to the Senate leadership.

So, why does it seem as if the White House is reluctant to stick its neck out on this? Apparently because the West Wing doesn’t think the votes are there.

Gibbs said flatly that the White House doesn’t believe there’s enough support in Congress to get it passed.

Asked directly whether the President’s failure to include the public option in his proposal means he views the public option as dead, Gibbs didn’t exactly dispute this interpretation.

“There are some that are supportive of this,” Gibbs said. But he added: “There isn’t enough political support in the majority to get this through.”

It’s certainly possible that Gibbs’ analysis is correct. In the Senate, public option supporters have quickly put together an impressive group of signatures in support of the provision. But even now, the total is less than half of what’s needed — and Rockefeller’s comments yesterday make it seem as if a Senate majority may not materialize, regardless of what the White House signals.

But let’s also not overlook the House. In my conversations with aides this week, there’s a strong sense that the majority is going to need a few (or more) Dems who voted against reform in November to vote for it now. The White House, then, is very likely thinking about how to shape the reform package to make it more attractive to some of the Blue Dogs whose votes will be necessary to ensure passage.

What’s more, I realize that Gibbs’s response today seems unexpected, but it doesn’t strike me as all that surprising — if the White House thought the votes were there for a public option, the administration would have included the idea in the proposal unveiled yesterday. The fact that the president’s version of reform didn’t include the idea should have made it pretty clear that the White House thinks, correctly or not, that public option support remains insufficient.

I should note, though, that Gibbs’s comments need not be the end of the public option. The White House is under the impression that the votes just aren’t there to pass this specific measure, but if proponents on and off the Hill want to prove otherwise, there’s still time to do just that. Gibbs didn’t say the president opposes the public option — Obama has said repeatedly he supports the idea, and would like to see it in the final bill — he just said he thinks the public option lacks the support it needs in Congress.

If public option advocates want to prove Gibbs wrong, now’s their chance.

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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.