Tags: obama | public | option

Obama's 'Public-Option' Spin Confuses Supporters

By David A. Patten   |   Monday, 17 Aug 2009 02:22 PM

It appears that even President Obama's spinmeisters are having difficulty conveying his highly nuanced position on "public-option" healthcare, including perhaps his secretary of Health and Human Services.

Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday that the public-option healthcare proposal "is not an essential part" of reform.

That touched off a riot of complaints from the left that healthcare reform without a government subsidized public option would be meaningless.

Some suggested Sebelius merely misspoke. But did she?

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports that Obama insiders can't seem to agree themselves on whether Sebelius' statements accurately reflect the president's position. And most of them don't want to go on the record.

One who did was Linda Douglass, the White House's health reform communications director. She told Ambinder that President Obama hasn't given up on the public option and wants it in the bill that ultimately reaches his desk.

Although that may be true, Obama has insisted that any public option not include government subsidies. That stance is clearly at odds with the government-subsidized public option that House liberals insist on. They say a non-subsidized public option is "unacceptable."

Another official, who asked not to be named, told Ambinder that Sebelius was merely trying to "echo" the president's position, which Ambinder describes as acknowledging "that the public option is a tough sell in the Senate and is, at the same time, a must-pass for House Democrats, and is not, in the president's view, the most important element of the reform package."

A third White House source told Ambinder that Sebelius said the right thing, but the media was at fault for not properly understanding and conveying the Obama administration's nuance.

"The media misplayed it," the source told Ambinder.

In other words, the whole brouhaha was the media's fault.

On Saturday, Obama spoke to a gathering in Colorado Springs, Colo., and acknowledged he now is getting opposition from both conservatives and progressives on the controversial public option, which some conservatives warn could lead to socialized medicine.

"The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform," he said. "This is just one sliver of it. One aspect of it."

"And by the way," the president added, "it's both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else."

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