Sources: White House Pushing Back Against Senate Public Option Opt Out Compromise

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Multiple sources tell TPMDC that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is very close to rounding up 60 members in support of a public option with an opt out clause, and are continuing to push skeptical members. But they also say that the White House is pushing back against the idea, in a bid to retain the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

“They’re skeptical of opt out and are generally deferential to the Snowe strategy that involves the trigger,” said one source close to negotiations between the Senate and the White House. “they’re certainly not calming moderates’ concerns on opt out.”

This new development, which casts the White House as an opponent of all but the most watered down form of public option, is likely to yield backlash from progressives, especially those in the House who have been pushing for a more maximal version of reform.

It also suggests, for perhaps the first time, that the White House’s supposed hands off approach, to ostensibly allow the two chambers in Congress to craft their own bills, has been discarded.High level White House officials have floated the trigger trial balloon a number of times in the press, and it seems they continue to do so, even at this crucial stage of the health care reform process, when their involvement is greatest. That has senators who support the public option concerned.

“Historically, ‘trigger’ mechanisms have not been successful, and they are not a substitute for a strong public health insurance option,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) in a curiously timed statement. “A ‘trigger’ simply delays price competition, which in turn will delay affordability for consumers and moves us farther away from the goals of health care reform. Already, we are seeing insurance companies threatening to game the system, by raising their prices in advance of reform. The only way to curb price-gouging by health insurance companies is with real competition on day one–that is the public option.”

Late update: In response to this report, White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer issued the following statement. “The report is false. The White House continues to work with the Senate on the merging of the two bills. We are making good progress toward enacting comprehensive health reform.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM’s senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he’s led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

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