If Public Option Isn’t Dead, Why Is Axelrod Referring to Its “Spirit”?

The Obama administration is sending out its strongest signs yet that it’s willing to scrap a public option in order to move a health care bill forward. White House adviser David Axelrod tells ABC News that what remains of Obama’s desire for a public option is largely theoretical. “The spirit that led him to support a public option is still very much at play here and so you know he wants competition. He wants choice.”

And an anonymous White House official tells Politico “We have been saying all along that the most important part of this debate is not the public option, but rather ensuring choice and competition.”

If the administration has concluded that a public option won’t fly (or has at least decided not to fight for it) it will be implicitly siding with the Senate in the congressional fight over the direction health care reform should take.A critical number of House progressives have vowed not to support a health care bill without a public option, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has affirmed that she can’t pass legislation without one.

But if the White House and Senate are unified behind the idea that the public option is itself optional, it will dramatically shift the weight of the fight against including one.

All of this is assuming that Democrats don’t try to pass a bill on their own, through the so-called budget reconciliation process. As we detailed yesterday, the reconciliation option might in some ways make creating a more robust public option more likely–but it’s hard to imagine vulnerable and skeptical Dems going to bat for a public option in that context if the White House isn’t willing to put up a fight.

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