White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged on Tuesday that there are only a "handful" of Republicans who seem interested in health care reform -- the closest any senior official has come to admitting that a major bipartisan effort is not in the cards.
Gibbs told reporters that Obama wasn't yet ready to give up on recruiting broad Republican support to a cause. Such a determination, he said, had not "ultimately been made." But the White House's chief spokesman did admit that "only a handful" of Republicans seemed "interested in the type of comprehensive reform so many believe is necessary."
"I think there seem to be many that don't share a desire to see costs cut, increases in coverage and quality to the degree to which others want to see," Gibbs added.
Among many Democrats outside the White House, such an assessment of the health care landscape has already become abundantly clear. Hours before Gibbs spoke, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, (R-Ariz.) said that the GOP would likely oppose a bill even if it was deficit neutral and included co-ops as opposed to a public option for insurance coverage,
Inside the White House, however, the administration has gone to great lengths to insist that all avenues for bipartisanship remain wide open. In early August, the president told a gathering of Democratic Senators that he remained committed to working with Republicans on health care. Slightly more than a week later, Gibbs stressed that Obama still wanted to work with Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), even after the senator had falsely declared that the Democratic agenda would allow the government to "pull the plug on grandma."
The extent to which the White House is willing to continue to search for Republican support on health care continues to be a thorny issue within the Democratic Party. It certainly raises important questions such as: Does compromising on major issues like a public option actually yield tangible bipartisan gains?