On Sunday, media outlets tripped over themselves to declare the death of the public option after Kathleen Sebelius told CNN's John King that a public option is "not the essential element" of health care reform.
In chasing the Sebelius comments, those very same media outlets ignored Robbert Gibbs' appearance on CBS' Face The Nation in which he both defended the public option and reiterated the President's support for it.
Meanwhile, Kent Conrad and Fox News eagerly to exploited the Sebelius quote, with Conrad declaring that support for the public option is a "wasted effort."
Here's video of all three interviews:
Regarding the coverage of Sebelius' "not the essential element" comment, one White House official told Marc Ambinder that "Sebelius misspoke." Another told Ambinder that the media had misplayed Sebelius' comments, and spokeswoman Linda Douglass said "nothing has changed" about President Obama's support for the public option.
"Nothing has changed," she said. "The President has always said that what is essential that health insurance reform lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and increase choice and competition in the health insurance market. He believes that the public option is the best way to achieve these goals."
The question now is whether the White House is still seriously pursuing the public option, or if it is just trying to avoid the blame from its defeat.
Transcript below the fold.
HARRY SMITH: Does the President have to have a government-sponsored or a government-run insurance plan in order for him to sign off the-- on this or is this a deal breaker?
ROBERT GIBBS: Well, Harry, what-- well, the President has always talked about is that we inject some choice and competition into the private insurance market. There are places in this country, unfortunately, where if you are-- if you don't get insurance through your job and you are seeking it on the private insurance market, you don't have any choice but one health insurance company.
What the President has said in order to inject choice and competition, which will drive down costs and improve quality, that people ought to be able to have some competitor in that market. There ought to be a choice that they have. The President has thus far sided with the motion that that can best be done through a public option.
HARRY SMITH: Okay. Thus far sided with--
ROBERT GIBBS (overlapping): But I think most of all--
HARRY SMITH: Is that-- is that a hedge?
ROBERT GIBBS: No, no, no. What I am saying is that the bottom line for this for the President is, what we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market. Again, if you are in a place in this country where you only get one choice, how in the world--
HARRY SMITH (overlapping): Right.
ROBERT GIBBS: --are you going to be able to convince anybody that you are driving down costs when you don't have to compete against anything.
KING: Thank you for joining with us, Madam Secretary. I would like to begin with something the president said at a town hall out in Colorado yesterday. Among the most contentious points of the debate and something the president once described as critical, is the so-called government or public option, to compete with private insurance companies. But if you listened to the president yesterday, he seemed to think, maybe it's not so important.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it. One aspect of it. And by the way, it's both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, some, Madam Secretary, take that as a simple statement of fact, because you don't have the votes right now in the Senate for the public option. But some in this town in Washington, especially House Democrats, more liberal Democrats who have said that is critical. That they will not support health care without a public option. They take that as a message from the president that the votes aren't there, it's time to come up with a plan B.
SEBELIUS: Well, I think, John, that the president is absolutely right. This piece of the puzzle has had enormous focus and the president continues to believe that it's good to have consumer choice, let people choose an option in the new marketplace. And it's good to have competition for the private insurers who will inherit a lot of new customers and without competition, costs could skyrocket.
In a monopoly system, it's not a great way to hold down costs. So he continues to be very supportive of some options for consumers. What we don't know is exactly what the Senate Finance Committee is likely to come up. They've been more focused on a co-op, not-for- profit co- op as a competitor as opposed to a straight government-run program.
And I think what's important is choice and competition. And I'm convinced at the end of the day, the plan will have both of those. But that is not the essential element.
KING: So is the president trying to say to -- you know that the votes in the House and you know the support among liberals and they're angry. They think they're being sold out in the Senate. Is the president trying to say, I'm sorry, the votes aren't there, be prepared to embrace a co-op instead of a more robust public option?
SEBELIUS: Well, the way that the process works, the Senate will have a version, the HELP Committee has already come out in the Senate with a version that has a very robust public option. It's the same version that's in the House-passed bills. What we don't know is the final committee structure.
And I think the president is just continuing to say, let's not have this be the only focus of the conversation. Coverage for all Americans, lowering the crushing cost for everyone, making sure that we have new rules for insurance companies, that they can't dump people out of the marketplace if you get sick, that they can't drop your coverage based on a pre-existing condition, that you can't be priced out because you're a woman instead of a man, and gender discrimination won't be allowed to continue anymore.
Those are really essential parts of the program, along with choice and competition, which I think we'll have at the end of the day.
MR. WALLACE: Senator Conrad, as a practical matter, especially given what Secretary Sebelius says, is the public option dead?
SEN. CONRAD: Well, there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option, and that’s why I was asked to come up with an alternative.
And I want to just make a tweak to what you’ve referred to as the cooperative plan. You could call it a public cooperative plan.
It’s not a public plan at all in the sense that government runs it. Government has nothing to do with it. Once it’s established, it is run by the members. That’s why it is appealing to some on the Republican side.
MR. WALLACE: It would put up some seed money, wouldn’t it? Senator, it would put up some of the seed money.
SEN. CONRAD: Yes. Yes, because there is a requirement to have reserves for any new health insurer. So the idea is the government would front-end some of the money.
And we have yet to discuss whether all of that or some of that gets paid back, but there would be that amount of involvement. But then it would be membership-run, membership-controlled. The government wouldn’t have any ongoing obligation or any control.
MR. WALLACE: And real quickly, Senator Conrad, because I want to move on to the next fact check, would the president be better off just taking the public option off the table right now?
SEN. CONRAD: Look, the fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option. There never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit I think is just a wasted effort.