Two progressive members of Congress who have pledged not to support a health care bill without a public option came to the White House's defense on Thursday against charges that President Obama is caving on the critical provision.
In a conference call with reporters, Reps. Raul Grijalva, (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison, (D-Minn.), said that they were heartened by the administration's response to recent questions about Obama's commitment to the public plan.
"The fact is this is no time for progressives to get cynical about the president," said Ellison. "If you raise your voice and you let the president know how strongly you feel about the public option, I think the president will do the right thing because he has been consistent about it all along."
In a roughly 30-minute give and take with reporters, the two lawmakers declined to divulge whether the White House had reached out to them to discuss the pledge they and their progressive colleagues in the House have made to oppose a bill without a public option.
"If we sort of comment on your question then we are going to be buying into th[e] minute-to-minute [mindset]," said Ellison. "The fact is, whether they have communicated with us or not, they know where we stand clearly."
But the two congressmen did stress that more than 60 members of the House of Representatives would vote against the bill if it didn't include a public plan. An alternative that included health insurance co-ops, they said, would face similar hurdles.
How that pledge affects the current health care debate is the object of great speculation among vote counters on the Hill and in the media. And while both representatives insisted on the call that they felt the White House was ideologically close to their position, they also suggested that they had to continue to push the president.
"We are not just doing this to be obstructionist or to divide the party or to try and embarrass the administration," said Grijalva. "We are very serious about [our position]. We not only bring the political support for the public option. We also bring a level of grassroots support for getting this done. And I think we have got to be seen in a different light. Not as a moving part or a group of opposition to contend with... but as an ally in the strategy. And at this point we haven't become allies in the strategy but I think we are getting there."