Obama Praises Deficit-Neutral Public Option

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's public option isn't quite what President Obama originally stumped for, but he congratulated the Speaker on including one in the House health care package she unveiled today at the Capitol--and on keeping the bill deficit neutral as she did it.

From his statement on the bill, released this morning by the White House:

The House legislation includes critical reforms to the insurance industry, so that Americans will no longer have to worry that they will be denied coverage, or that their coverage will be dropped or watered down when they need it most. I'm also pleased that the bill includes a public option offered in an exchange. As I've said throughout this process, a public option that competes with private insurers is the best way to ensure choice and competition that are so badly needed in today's market. And the House bill clearly meets two of the fundamental criteria I have set out: it is fully paid for and will reduce the deficit in the long term.

While we know there will may more steps and much spirited debate before a bill reaches my desk, I congratulate the House on their work so far, and I'm confident that members will continue to work together to deliver meaningful reform for America's families and businesses.

Obama has long pushed for a so-called "robust" public option, and Speaker Pelosi's public option isn't one. Her bill includes a compromise version that, instead of using Medicare reimbursement rates, lets doctors and hospitals negotiate the rates they'll receive from the government-run insurance plan.

But Pelosi's inclusion of a compromise public option is a step toward eventually passing one, in some form or another. And, more importantly, it's deficit-neutral: that label gave the Senate Finance Committee's bill a big boost among moderates, and by creating a public option that can carry the deficit-neutral tag, Pelosi has advanced the public-option cause, even if her version isn't as strong as liberals wanted it to be.

(Obama, it should be noted, has long held his own preferences to be flexible, not imposing a robust public option on Congress but instead emphasizing the ends--expanding coverage and reducing costs--over the means.)

Now, with Pelosi's public option and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan to let states opt out of a government-run insurance plan, compromise proposals now exist that place the public option within the zones of fiscal and political acceptability--and that's something Obama can be happy about.