Fiery town hall meetings, August deadlines that have come and gone, “fishy” e-mails being collected by the White House, secret PhRMA deals, lashing out at constituent dissent as “un-American”—all have been incredible developments in the white hot debate surrounding President Obama’s health care reform efforts.
A firestorm of heavy positioning by elected officials and outside groups erupted this week after administration officials appeared to signal their willingness to jettison a government-run health insurance plan as part of an eventual compromise.
On a CNN talk show last Sunday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that a government-run public health insurance plan is “not the essential element” for providing consumers with choice and competition in health care overhaul. And at one of his town hall meetings in Colorado last week, the president said that “The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it—one aspect of it.”
White House officials later insisted that there had been no change in their support for the public option as they sought to reassure Democrats furious about what they regarded as an administration cave-in. Eventually, the White House clarified that the remarks by Sebelius and Obama were being taken out of context and misunderstood. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and other administration officials settled on responding that “Nothing has changed” and that a government-run public plan remains the president’s “preferred” option in health care reform.
The statements were widely viewed by Washington insiders as “trial balloons” as the president tries to meet the challenges of keeping enough Democrats and hopefully Republicans on board toward to possibly reach a health reform consensus.