Rockefeller: White House Approach To Public Option ‘Difficult To Fathom’ Sometimes

Dennis Brack/Newscom

I just spoke with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who had a bit of a fractured take on the current state of the public option. He took issue with the President Obama’s aloof approach to the public option, and at the same time echoed one of the administration’s most controversial lines.

“They’re a little difficult to fathom sometimes, to keep up with what they’re doing,” Rockefeller said. “They’re in these meetings, all of these meetings, that I don’t get to go to so I can’t tell you exactly what they’re saying.”

But he also said something that seems a bit at odds with his consistent, emphatic support for the measure, which he has described as a necessary element of reform. “You know, the public option–which I think in the end is going to prevail–is not actually the biggest thing in the entire bill,” Rockefeller told me. “I hate to hear myself say that, but it’s true.”

Earlier today, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)–another ardent public option enthusiast–said much the same thing after an event heralding a plan to strip the health insurance industry of its anti-trust exemption.Rockefeller said that he thinks the cost-saving nature of the public option should be used to appeal to conservative Democrats, while suggesting he’s open to one of the most talked about compromises. “I’m looking very much now at this opt out public option–not opt in but opt out–so you start out with a public option, and if you don’t like it you can opt out….that has a sense of freedom.”

There may be a sense in the caucus that it’s important–for perhaps more than one reason–not to inflate expectations about the public option, particularly given the dramatic developments in the House. But Rockefeller did say he thought the public option would prevail. And in that regard, he’s in agreement with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) who didn’t mince words.

“This bill’s going to have public option when it comes out of the Senate, it’s going to have an even stronger public option when it comes out of conference,” Brown told me.

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