A Peek at Obama's Healthcare Speech: No Insistence on Public Option

September 9, 2009

Earlier today, the media wondered how hard President Obama, in his speech to Congress tonight, would push for a healthcare reform bill that includes a public option.

This just in: Not that hard.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear write in The New York Times:

President Obama will talk about the advantages of a public-insurance option in his nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress on health insurance reform Wednesday night, but he will not insist on it, the White House said on Wednesday afternoon.

“Security and stability” for those who do not have health insurance, and for those who do, will be a paramount theme for the president, with a public option a possible means to an end rather than an end in itself, White House officials said. They briefed journalists on condition that the details of Mr. Obama’s remarks be withheld until he speaks.

The White House’s latest hint of flexibility in his effort to overhaul health care coverage came just a few hours before the president is to address the nation, beginning at 8 p.m.

Earlier on Wednesday, Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that his panel would take up sweeping legislation and start voting on it in two weeks, with or without the support of Republicans.

“The time has come for action, and we will act,” Mr. Baucus said.

Mr. Baucus said that he very much hoped to win support from Republicans with whom he has been negotiating for months. But he said he firmly intended to “mark up” a bill the week of Sept. 21.

“Irrespective of whether there are any Republicans, I will move forward,” Mr. Baucus said after meeting Wednesday with Democrats on the committee. “We have to move forward. If there are not any Republicans on board, I will move forward in any event.”

Mr. Baucus said his bill — the starting point for the committee’s work — would not include a new government-run health insurance program, or public option, because “a public option cannot pass the Senate.”

With Mr. Baucus signaling his intentions, that will make five Congressional committees that will have advanced plans for health care reform.

In one indicator of the complexities of health care politics, the more liberal House is considered unlikely to pass a bill without a public option. The White House, which has favored a public option, has eased off recently in signaling that a public option is not a deal-breaker, as the White House officials’ comments on Wednesday afternoon made clear.

Continue reading for an analysis of where things stand with other Senate and House members.

Plus: David Herszenhorn has put together a how-to guide for watching Obama’s speech that includes tips on what to listen for and who to watch when it’s time for applause.

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