The White House made it official on Tuesday: the president doesn't think the votes are there to get a public option passed through reconciliation and consequently won't make a push to include or pass the provision.
Speaking at the daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked again why the administration did not include the government-run insurance option in its final health care proposal in light of the fact that 23 Democratic senators signed a letter calling for its passage.
"We have seen obviously that though there are some that are supportive of this, there isn't enough political support in a majority to get this through," Gibbs responded. "The president... took the Senate bill as the base and looks forward to discussing consensus ideas on Thursday."
The remarks were the clearest indication to date that the White House's vote counters don't see a viable path to getting the public option into law, even if Senate Democrats use reconciliation -- which would have allowed for an up or down vote. The outstanding question for advocates of the proposal remains: How many lawmakers could have been persuaded to vote for the public plan had the White House actually pushed for its passage?
It's worth recalling, after all, that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) says he was never approached by the President to discuss the public option. And while administration officials insisted, at the time, that the Senator knew where they stood -- implying that there was nothing they could do to move his vote -- Obama clearly does carry significant sway in the legislative process. On Monday, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said she decided to support a modest jobs bill only after she met with an administration official and received a phone call from Obama himself.
Meanwhile, the White House message was already being relayed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who told reporters on Tuesday that President Obama seemed to believe the public plan had no chance in the Senate.
"I was for the public option. I believe the public option does, in fact, provide for -- and CBO scores it as -- saving money. And to that extent I think it's a good thing," said Hoyer. "But I think that it is obviously an item that the president has decided -- he was for the public option, as well -- is not something that perhaps the Senate can buy."
UPDATE: Progressive Change Campaign co-founder Adam Green, one of the main activists behind the public option push, responds harshly to Gibbs.
The White House obviously has a loser mentality -- but America rallies around winners. Polls show that in state after state, voters hate the Senate bill and overwhelmingly want a public option, even if passed with zero Republican votes. More than 50 Senate Democrats and 218 House Democrats were willing to vote for the public option before, and the only way to lose in reconciliation is if losers are leading the fight. That's why Democrats in Congress should ignore the White House and follow those like Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez who know that the public option is a political and policy winner.
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