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President Obama discouraging public opt-out option, reports say

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The wheels may be coming off the cart of the Democrats’ all-in-this together strategy for overhauling healthcare.

And according to two reports, the people doing the wheel removing work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Last week, conservative Democratic senators broke the news that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was considering including a provision in the Senate healthcare bill which would create a government-run healthcare option but allow states to opt out.

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On Friday, Politico claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was coming up short when corralling votes for the “robust” public option she’d promised. Critics dismissed the report, but the New York Times subsequently reported that there were indications Pelosi was short of the needed votes to pass a more aggressive public plan.

And on Saturday night, just in time for the Sunday talk shows, The Huffington Post reported what numerous Democrats already feared: that President Barack Obama was privately cold to the Senate’s opt-out public option, fearing that his party doesn’t have the votes to pass it. Obama, the story says, favors a proposal floated by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), which would put a public option in place only if insurance companies failed to meet a certain threshold of cost control.

The Huffington piece isn’t the first to make the allegation — the story first came from Talking Points Memo‘s Brian Beutler, who is not credited.

On Friday, Beutler wrote “that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is very close to rounding up 60 members in support of a public option with an opt out clause, and are continuing to push skeptical members. But they also say that the White House is pushing back against the idea, in a bid to retain the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).”

“They’re skeptical of opt out and are generally deferential to the Snowe strategy that involves the trigger,” a source close to negotiations between the Senate and the White House, was quoted as saying. “They’re certainly not calming moderates’ concerns on opt out.”

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Beutler noted that it placed “the White House as an opponent of all but the most watered down form of public option.”

The White House denied the report.

“The report is false,” Dan Pfeiffer, a White House spokesman, said. “The White House continues to work with the Senate on the merging of the two bills. We are making good progress toward enacting comprehensive health reform.”

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Huffington’s Sam Stein and Ryan Grimm added Saturday:

President Barack Obama is actively discouraging Senate Democrats in their effort to include a public insurance option with a state opt-out clause as part of health care reform. In its place, say multiple Democratic sources, Obama has indicated a preference for an alternative policy, favored by the insurance industry, which would see a public plan “triggered” into effect in the future by a failure of the industry to meet certain benchmarks.

“Everybody knows we’re close enough that these guys could be rolled. They just don’t want to do it because it makes the politics harder,” said a senior Democratic source, saying that Obama is worried about the political fate of Blue Dogs and conservative Senate Democrats if the bill isn’t seen as bipartisan. “These last couple folks, they could get them if Obama leaned on them.”

But with fundamental reform of the health care system in plain sight for the first time in half a century, the president appears to be siding with those who see the Senate and its entrenched culture as too resistant to change. Administration officials say that Obama’s preference for the trigger, which is backed by Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, is founded in a fear that Reid’s public option couldn’t get the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. More specifically, aides fear that a handful of conservative Democrats will not support a bill unless it has at least one Republican member’s support.

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The piece quotes only anonymous Democratic aides, some of which are identified as aides and others as “sources.”

The White House has previously denied that President Obama has indicated his support for or against any of the proposals under consideration.

Huffington’s full piece, titled, “Leaderless: Senate Pushes for Public Option Without Obama’s Support,” can be read here; Beutler’s “White House Pushing Back Against Senate Public Option” here.

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