Death By A Thousand Leaks?

October 23, 2009 4:56 a.m.

A lot of conflicting reports out this morning on where public option stands. The White House meeting late yesterday between President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders has yielded its own flurry of accounts of what went down.

Let’s try to sort it all out:The biggest splash has been Mike Allen’s Politico story which reports that the President said in the meeting that he is leaning toward a triggered public option along the lines of what Sen. Olympia Snowe favors:

Obama told Democratic leadership at the White House Thursday evening that his preference is for the trigger championed by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) – a plan that would allow a public plan to kick in if private insurers don’t expand coverage fast enough, a top administration official told POLITICO. It’s also sign Obama is interested in maintaining a sense of bipartisanship around the health reform plan.

At that meeting, Obama did not sign on to a plan being floated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include a different variation of the public option in the Senate bill – a plan that would create a national public plan but allow states to “opt-out.” Reid now believes he can get 60 votes to bring a bill with that plan to the floor by breaking an expected GOP filibuster – and then secure the 51 votes needed to pass it.

Contrast that with the New York Times overnight account, which says the President took no position either way:

Mr. Reid met with President Obama at the White House Thursday to inform him of his inclination to add the public option to the bill, but did not specifically ask the president to endorse that approach, a Democratic aide said. Mr. Obama asked questions, but did not express a preference at the meeting, a White House official said.

Reacting to these reports, the White House is acknowledging to Greg Sargent this morning that Obama took no position either way, but emphasizing that no one should read too much into it:

But the senior White House official points out that the discussion was not about the public option in general. Rather, Reid was specifically raising the possibility of a public option with an opt-out clause as one potential route. On this specific policy option, the official says, “the White House did not state a position either way.”

Similarly, the White House is knocking down the Politico report in conversations with TPMDC:

Senators are “still working through the substance and talking to their members about it,” the source said. “They didn’t ask for the president’s endorsement since no decision has been made.”

Separately the Politico story lead with the apparent news that Speaker Nancy Pelosi discovered after a whip count yesterday that she does not have the votes for the most “robust” form of public option:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi counted votes Thursday night and determined she could not pass a “robust public option” — the most aggressive of the three forms of a public option House Democrats have been considering as part of a national overhaul of health care.

Pelosi’s decision–coupled with a significant turn of events yesterday during a private White House meeting–points to an increasingly likely compromise for a “trigger” option for a government plan.

But House sources are telling TPMDC that report is premature and is nothing more than an effort from some quarters to pressure Pelosi to drop public option. Appearing on MSNBC this morning, presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett said, “I don’t know whether Mike Allen can actually count votes or not.”

Late Update: Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami tells TPMDC:

Speculation that a final decision has been made about the public option are not accurate. We continue to work with all the members of the caucus to build consensus.

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