The Public Option: Is It Staying or Going?

A cabinet official said the public option is expendable for health care reform, but the White House pushes back. Decoding the two-step.

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Is the public option for health insurance reform dead or not? Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius's remark that government insurance "is not an essential part" of reform was seemingly countered by the White House's claim, as reported by The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, that she misspoke. President Obama, his spokesperson said, believes the public option is the most important aspect of reform, yet the president himself said last week that it "is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it."

So is a critical part of the president's domestic policy agenda finished or did the White House simply float a trial balloon?

  • It's a Goner  Nate Silver writes that the public option is "probably" dead, with the most important question being whether it was ever "alive" in the first place. After all, the idea always faced an uphill climb in the Senate. And that was before Obama's underwhelming sales job, Silver said.
  • Public Option in Disguise  The American Spectator anonymously quotes a White House source and an aide to Sebelius as saying that the plan for health care cooperatives would eventually become the public option because the government would provide start-up funding and the co-op would have a board created by Congress and the administration to manage it.
  • Just Gone for Now  Patrick Edaburn of The Moderate Voice said the White House is throwing the option overboard so it can pass a bill, claim victory, and take another stab at a public option later. "But that will not stop them from pursuing the more expansive programs in the future, especially if they are able to have reasonable success in the 2010 elections."
  • Just a Bargaining Chip?  Ambinder wrote the White House did demand a public option in the beginning of its reform push, but they softened three months ago when it was clear the votes weren't there. Mickey Kaus appears to believe the administration has pulled the plug on the option, but disagrees with the theory that the public option might have been put on the table as a bargaining chip, not a firm demand for reform. Moreover, dumping the plan helps pass a bill in Congress but doesn't help sell the public on reform generally.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.