Video: Public option hanging in the balance

  1. Closed captioning of: Public option hanging in the balance

    >> thank you.

    >>> it's another big week in the battle over health care reform with the fate of the public option and the final senate version of the bill hanging in the balance . we're at the white house with the latest. hi, mike.

    >> reporter: top white house aides head to the capitol for closed door meetings on health care to bring different factions of the democratic party together. white house advisers took to the air waves today trying to build momentum for health care reform , after mr. obama vowed to press on with the fight.

    >> i'm not tired. i'm just getting started.

    >> reporter: but much of that fight is now within the president's own party.

    >> i think the public option makes the most sense.

    >> reporter: an argument over a government-run plan favored by urban liberal democrats and opposed by party moderates from rural areas.

    >> i will not support any public option tied to medicare levels of reimbursement.

    >> reporter: without the centrist most believe a public option cannot pass the senate, and today top presidential aides signaled in the end it may be the left that loses this battle.

    >> he's pushed for it certainly, but he's realistic to say we have to look at all options.

    >> reporter: leaders reason that a democratic rank and file will see there's simply too much at stake and ultimately go along with the president.

    >> i believe that there is a fundamental belief on the hill at this time that we can't fail now. we've come this far, the country wants us to act.

    >> reporter: now mr. obama faces more friendly fire after a key committee passed a plan to pay for reform with a tax on high-cost policies, major unions, normally obama allies took out full page newspaper ads complaining that the tax will hit labor hardest and vowing without changes they say we will oppose it. and late last night opposition from a more familiar foe. sarah palin posting on her facebook page and echoing insurance industry claims saying the latest plans will mean higher premiums. after being blindsided by insurance industry attacks, the president hit back.

    >> it's smoke and mirrors . it's bogus and all too familiar.

    >> reporter: lester, another pressing concern here at the white house is, of course, afghanistan with top aides saying today a decision on a new strategy is at least two weeks away. lester.

    >> thank you.

updated 10/18/2009 7:10:08 PM ET 2009-10-18T23:10:08

The White House will not commit to health care legislation that would cap insurance premiums or tax benefits, taking a wait-and-see approach as congressional negotiators seek a deal, advisers said Sunday.

President Barack Obama will not demand that a final bill include a government-run plan as a way of driving down costs through competition, though that's his preference, they said.

"There will be compromise. There will be legislation, and it will achieve our goals: helping people who have insurance get more security, more accountability for the insurance industry, helping people who don't have insurance get insurance they can afford, and lowering the overall cost of the system," aide David Axelrod said.

Asked on ABC's "This Week" if Obama would sign a bill that ended the antitrust exemption for the insurance industry and allow caps on premiums, Axelrod said, "We'll see what Congress does."

A 1945 law lets states regulate insurers without federal interference.

Axelrod was similarly noncommittal when pressed about whether Obama would support taxing insurance benefits, a proposal that has brought criticism from labor unions and others. "I think that this thing is going to be adjusted as we go along," he said, "so let's see what the final proposal says before we talk about what the president will or won't sign."

Trying to craft a final bill
The White House and lawmakers are trying to blend five House and Senate committee versions of health care legislation into a bill that will pass both houses. Near unanimous Republican opposition is expected.

House Democrats are insisting on a government-run plan, known as a public option. In the Senate, Republicans and some Democrats oppose the measure, meaning inclusion of the public option would foreclose winning the 60 votes needed to advance a bill.

Obama "will obviously weigh in when it's important to weigh in" on the possibility of a public option, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said. Added Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett: "He's not demanding that it's in there. He think it's the best possible choice."

The president promoted his health care initiative Saturday in his weekly radio and online address and challenged policy makers to resist special interests. He accused the insurance industry of "filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads" and paying for studies "designed to mislead the American people."

Jarrett said the president's criticism was a sign of his frustration with the insurance industry's efforts to "tank this bill."

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A study commissioned by the industry reported that the Democrats' health care effort would drive up premiums for the insured, a conclusion faulted for taking a decidedly narrow view of legislation. The industry also has been running an ad that could easily be mistaken as asserting that basic Medicare coverage is at risk.

"I think that the message that we've seen from the president and the huge momentum that is moving through Congress shows that the American people are ready for health care reform," Jarrett said. "And they're ready for it this year, and nothing's going to stop that."

Only one GOP vote
The bill approved last week by the Senate Finance Committee drew the only Republican vote yet cast with Democrats on the health care overhaul. Even then, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, did not commit to supporting the final version of the bill.

Labor groups say plans to finance health care reform by taxing insurance companies would end up costing middle-income Americans because the industry would simply pass along the taxes with higher premiums.

Emanuel, while not directly disputing that claim, insisted Sunday that the Senate Finance Committee bill "hits the insurance companies and the high expansive and expensive plans."

"One of the most effective ways of putting downward pressure on health care premium increases is a disincentive to ever-expansive and expensive plans," Emanuel said. "I find it ironic because some of the critics on the right were the people that called for, in fact, eliminating the tax exclusion. Now they've become the biggest defenders."

Emanuel spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" and CBS' "Face the Nation" while Jarrett appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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