White flag or trial balloon?

The White House tried a little Kabuki dance yesterday about its demand for the public option in the health-care reform bill.  Earlier in the day, Kathleen Sebelius suggested that the Obama administration might be willing to forgo that piece in order to get a reform bill passed this year.  After reaction spread quickly to this retreat, the White House later said that the Secretary of Health and Human Services “misspoke”, and later added that it was the media’s fault for “misplaying” her remarks:

An administration official said tonight that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “misspoke” when she told CNN this morning that a government run health insurance option “is not an essential part” of reform. This official asked not to be identified in exchange for providing clarity about the intentions of the President. The official said that the White House did not intend to change its messaging and that Sebelius simply meant to echo the president, who has acknowledged that the public option is a tough sell in the Senate and is, at the same time, a must-pass for House Democrats, and is not, in the president’s view, the most important element of the reform package.

A second official, Linda Douglass, director of health reform communications for the administration, said that President Obama believed that a public option was the best way to reduce costs and promote competition among insurance companies, that he had not backed away from that belief, and that he still wanted to see a public option in the final bill. …

A third White House official, via e-mail, said that Sebelius didn’t misspeak. “The media misplayed it,” the third official said.

This White House wants to argue that the press is hostile?  Puh-leeze.

Michelle says that this was a trial balloon instead of a white flag, and she’s probably right.  It’s also probably immaterial.  Just as with the language that created the talk of “death panels,” the public option has become a lightning rod for opposition to the effort to remake the American health-care system.  Sen. Kent Conrad’s remarks yesterday that the push for a public option is a “wasted effort” is much more grounded in reality. After this recess and all of the protests, only politicians with career suicide on their minds will support it.

Obama won’t have the votes to move a bill with a public option, no matter whether he compares it to the Post Office, the DMV, or the VA, all of which are valid — and disastrous — examples of what a future ObamaCare will resemble.  Up to now, Obama has shown very little influence on a runaway Congress.  He didn’t get involved in drafting the bill, nor did he do so with Porkulus or cap-and-trade.  If Congress started to walk away from the public option, what would Obama do?  If he demanded an audience with Congressional leadership, he wouldn’t get very far, since it’s the leadership that drafted this poliutical disaster in the first place.

Sebelius’ statement isn’t the key.  It’s the reaction from members of Congress who either felt the full blast of anger from voters for their attempt to nationalize the health-care industry, or simply ran away from it.  That’s the pressure point for the opposition.

Update: The Washington Post notes that Robert Gibbs was also backing away slightly from insistence on a public plan.