Press conference on Air Force One this afternoon in which Robert Gibbs says he's baffled by all the uproar: Q Public option -- is it dead or not?
August 17, 2009

Press conference on Air Force One this afternoon in which Robert Gibbs says he's baffled by all the uproar:

Q Public option -- is it dead or not?

MR. GIBBS: I got to tell you, this is one of the more curious things I've ever seen in my life. I was on a Sunday show, I said the same thing about a public option that I've said for I don't know how many weeks. The Secretary reiterated what the President said the day before, and you'd think there was some new policy.

Q The language appeared to be --

MR. GIBBS: The language "appeared" to be?

Q Well, the language on Saturday -- the President made -- saying that the public option was only a sliver, and whether it's in it or it isn't in it seems to move the ball a little bit from where you guys were. No?

MR. GIBBS: No. I think you can go back and find the President saying -- look, the President has said that's his preference, but the President has also said I don't know how many times if the goals are choice and competition, right, the reason you have a public option is because you have an insurance market that doesn't have choice or competition. If somebody is trying to seek private insurance on -- private health insurance on a private market and only has -- because this happens in some areas or in some states where there's one insurance company that does business in that region, that that is -- that doesn't ensure the type of affordability and quality that you'd want to see in a health insurance system.

So you have some competition that provides some choice, so that if a family of four might have different insurance needs than a single person or a couple that's married with no children or what have you. The goals are choice and competition. His preference is a public option. If there are other ideas, he's happy to look at them. Because I think his -- I think this is true not only for the issue of health care, but for virtually every other issue that he'll ever deal with in public life is he has goals about what he wants to accomplish and he's not necessarily wedded to one -- only one way of getting there. I think he's said that a hundred times.

Q Just to be completely clear, has anything changed on the public option?

MR. GIBBS: No. I challenge you guys all to go back and see what we've said about this over the course of many, many, many, many months, and you'll find a boring consistency to our rhetoric.

Q The rhetoric, as you say, might be consistent, but the movement on the ground, so to speak, toward legislation hasn't been. Is there any recognition now that a public option is looking less likely to be part of a final deal?

MR. GIBBS: Let me make sure I understand your question, because I want to know if it's -- is this predicated on legislative developments since Congress has been out of session, or are we trying to match the stampede of a series of stories to if not the consistent language that we've all been saying to some now legislative vote?

Q It's just looking more and more likely that a public option is not going to be part of the final bill. I'm wondering if the White House is --

MR. GIBBS: I do think -- can I just -- I want to point out the -- how do I phrase this -- massive irony that I don't know that I saw any of your stories denote the fact that this might be -- that you're surmising now this was a political reality rather than --

Q That's what we're asking.

MR. GIBBS: I understand, but did you think from the phrasing of Julianna's question that we might be coming to justify a series of stampeding stories in one direction based on something different than what we've always said?

Q But you guys have -- you haven't exactly come out publicly since Sebelius' statement yesterday, come in front of the cameras to speak to us, to downplay --

MR. GIBBS: Because nothing has changed.

Q But you haven't downplayed the remarks and the coverage either.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think many people talked to you all yesterday. I think people sent e-mails. David Axelrod called people.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. GIBBS: I didn't get an e-mail from you. Nothing has changed. I mean, we can go out and say nothing has changed, but that seems sort of silly since nothing has changed.

Look, in terms of the political realities, obviously there's a public plan -- or public option in the House bill. There is a public option in the HELP bill. I don't know what the Senate Finance Committee will come out with.

Can you help us out?

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