In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Big Huddle: Where Health Care Goes From Here

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Newscom / Scott J. Ferrell

A sticking point is the public option - Baucus (D-MT) says it's alive, polls show it's gaining in support and even Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D-AR) constituents are asking her about it.

As for striking a deal, this is the still in the smoke-filled-room stage, with reporters expecting details to trickle out without a full read on the final bill. Senators who would be lobbied aren't hearing much yet. House Democrats say they don't expect to be considered in the process for awhile.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was pushed during his briefing today on whether Obama was really meeting his transparency pledge since these meetings are shrouded from the public.

"The merging of two committee bills is just one step along a long process," he said. "And I think the American people have -- have gotten quite a bit of news coverage on this topic."

He added: "The process, again, is ongoing. Trust me: I'd love to declare that the process is over. It's not. It's ongoing, and I think transparency will be continued."

Meanwhile in the Oval Office, Obama sat down today with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) who is a key holdout on the public option.

Gibbs said health care isn't the only item they discussed, since Conrad is chairman of the Budget Committee.

From a political standpoint, it's worth noting that despite his resistance on health care, Conrad was one of Obama's early allies. He endorsed Obama in Iowa and joined the candidate on a bus tour in December 2007. He was one of the first red-state senators to take a chance on his less seasoned senate colleague when the establishment was still firmly behind his rival Hillary Clinton.

Beyond these private talks, health care is being tossed right back into the political fire. Democrats directly challenged Republicans in a "get a mop" stunt this afternoon and Obama is keying up what's likely to be a rendition of "fired up" when he speaks to political supporters via conference call tomorrow night.