White House Backs Away from Public Option

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The White House is signalling a shift in the health care debate, one that could bring Republicans on board. But it also could spell disaster among liberal Democrats pushing for universal care.
    
After weeks of heated town hall meetings, the White House may be turning the page on one of the most contentious issues: a government-run insurance alternative.
    
Republicans and many across the country give the idea two thumbs down.

"We're in deep trouble, and the country can't afford what it's doing now so why don't we work on fixing medicare, medicaid, and social security," said Dan Ellegood, who opposes the president's proposal.
    
The Obama administration now appears to be backing off.

Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the public option is "not the essential element" to health care reform.
    
Instead, the White House is open to the idea of consumer-owned non-profit coops that would compete directly with private companies -- a strategic shift that could end the stalemate in congress.

"Look, the fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. "There never have been so to continue to chase that rabbit is a wasted effort."

"It would be a step in the right direction, away from a government takeover of our health care in this country," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
    
Dropping the government plan would be a tough pill to swallow. The public option is popular among liberal Democrats who want to overhaul health care and extend coverage to nearly 50 million people who do not have it.

"I just can't believe that conservatives think it's ok to leave out people who can't afford health care that we have," said Jill Cross, who supports the president's proposal.
    
One House Democrat has already said health care legislation without the public option would be a potential deal-breaker for the Democratic caucus.

But according to a recent poll, 54 percent of Americans said no health care reform this year would be better than Congress passing the current plan.

The Rasmussen Report says it does not mean most voters are opposed to reform - rather they are concerned about specific proposals. The shift away from the public option may mean critics can check off one concern, but it is unlikely to move them much closer to supporting the president's overall plan.

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