On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs strongly hit back at former DNC Chairman Howard Dean for criticizing the Senate health care bill, suggesting, at one point, that Dean was being irrational and didn't understand the contents of the legislation.
"I don't know what piece of legislation he is reading," said Gibbs.
"I would ask Dr. Dean, how better do you address those who don't have insurance: passing a bill that will cover 30 million who don't currently have it or killing the bill?" he added. "I don't think any rational person would say killing the bill makes a whole lot of sense at this point."
Asked if Dean was acting irrationally, Gibbs replied: "I can't tell what his motives are, to be honest with you."
A prominent champion of the public plan, Dean has strongly criticized the recent round of compromises made by Senate Democratic leadership, in which the public option was axed and a provision to expand Medicare was also sacrificed. The former Vermont governor has called the current incarnation a give-away to the insurance industry because it won't effectively control the cost of premiums and would not create additional competition for the private market. Gibbs went through a list of Dean's complaints, rebutting them one by one. He also insisted that, during his run for the White House in 2004, Dean ran on a platform that resembled the current Senate bill.
"If this is an insurance company's dream, I think the insurance companies have yet to get the memo," he summarized.
In actuality, the insurance companies do seem to have considered the recent round of negotiations a victory, with one executive telling Ben Smith of Politico: "We win."
The relationship between Dean and the White House has been frosty, starting when the president did not pick the former DNC chair for the post of Health and Human Services Secretary. But the rhetoric from Gibbs on Wednesday brought the animus to a far more public level.
Asked if they are worried that Dean's criticism of the bill will sway progressives in the Senate, Gibbs replied: "No."
Asked if Dean was an irritant, Gibbs replied: "That is not a question for me to answer. I think if you look at what Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and others have said, I think they can point out the benefits of the legislation."