UPDATE: Harry Reid has kissed and made up with the Finance Committee Republicans. So much for that momentary attack of leadership!
I think it's pretty clear that Rahm's original statements were some kind of trial balloon. I know some of you would like to think Rahm was acting as a loose cannon, but that's just not the way political operations are run, especially at the White House level.
It's just as clear that the pushback from every direction has sent a very strong message to the White House. That's why Rahm rushed to meet with members of the Democratic caucus last night: to quell the firestorm. Nice work, everyone! Don't let up on the pressure, because Obama may yet compromise on the public option:
Liberal groups on Tuesday made it clear that they are not happy with news reports that the White House may be considering alternatives to a public plan in health care reform.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the 77-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, fired off a letter to President Barack Obama warning him against dropping a public insurance option from health care reform plans.
Grijalva described the “alarm and dismay” he felt after reading a Wall Street Journal story that cites White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel offering support for a “trigger” mechanism, under which a public plan option is only part of health care if the marketplace fails to provide sufficient competition on its own.
“I want to be crystal clear that any such trigger for a strong public plan option is a non-starter with a majority of the Members of the Progressive Caucus,” Grijalva said.
“Moreover, I consider it unacceptable for any of the cost savings that you are negotiating with hospitals and other sectors of the health care industry to be made contingent upon a robust public plan option not being included in the final legislation,” Grijalva continued.
Obama sought to ease liberals’ concerns by issuing a statement that reaffirms his support for a public option. But many House liberals remain concerned that Emanuel is still pushing a deal for hospitals.
And in a meeting last night with House Democrats, Rahm Emanuel reassured rebellious members the president strongly backs a government-run public plan:
Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) warned Emanuel that he would lose the caucus’ votes if the White House compromised on the issue and included a “trigger” that could delay a public insurance plan indefinitely. The trigger idea is backed by conservative Democrats but is anathema to liberals.
“We have compromised enough, and we are not going to compromise on any kind of trigger game,” Woolsey said she told Emanuel. “People clapped all over the place. We mean it, and not just progressives.”
Now, let's parse what Rahm continues to say. Obama "strongly backs" a government-run public plan - but is not willing to draw a line in the sand? What, then, does "strongly back" mean to Obama? He simply shrugs and says, "Whatever"?
Emanuel met with House Dems yesterday to reassure them that the President remains firmly behind the public option. But it’s still not quite clear what Rahm said or how strongly the White House remains committed to it.
Here’s how Rep. Henry Waxman, who says he was reassured by the meeting, characterized what Rahm said:
“He doesn’t stand by that trigger,” Waxman said. “He said the president and his administration and he are for a public plan as one of the options.”
The claim that Rahm “doesn’t stand by” the trigger is a bit opaque. If it means that Rahm took back his claim that the White House sees the “trigger,” which many see as a back-door way to kill a public plan, as a viable option, that will reassure many Dems.
However, if Rahm said that the President backs the public plan as “one of the options,” that doesn’t really go much further than what the President said yesterday, which left the White House plenty of wiggle room on this question.
In other words, it looks now like Rahm told House Dems that the President strongly backs the public option, but isn’t willing to draw a line in the sand over it. Which, of course, is what Obama has been saying all along.