WASHINGTON -- Despite the recent surge of support among Democrats for the public health insurance option, its omission won't strip the support of senators who have championed its passage through reconciliation, aides say.
In less than a week, 20 senators signed on to a letter authored by Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) calling for a reconciliation vote on the public option, which is popular among voters but highly controversial in Congress.
Two of these senators' aides said Monday that while their bosses would strongly prefer that the provision be included, they'll move forward with or without it.
"It's by no means a deal-breaker," one aide told Raw Story. "That's always been the case. We've always believed that this isn't the only way to go about health care reform."
A second aide added, "Some of us are very solidly behind the public option, but we still voted for the Senate bill in the end so we could act and get this done."
So effective was the letter that even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) signaled by the end of the week he would consider using reconciliation to pass the provision. But on Monday Reid made no mention of the provision while announcing his support for the newly-released White House proposal that excluded it.
Given that the public option has been polling much more favorably than the overall Senate health bill -- which a new survey conducted by the nonpartisan Research 2000 re-affirms -- progressives were confounded and frustrated by the White House's exclusion of it.
In December a CBS News poll found that six in ten Americans support the public option. At the same time, polls have been showing for several months that the percentage of people who oppose the overall Senate health care package outstrips its supporters.
But the enthusiasm for it among Senate Democrats appears lukewarm at best.
While neither the White House or the Democratic leadership appears willing to make the heavy lift and whip up votes for the provision, Obama and Reid have both expressed willingness to pass the final bill through the Senate under reconciliation if Republicans choose to filibuster it.
The aides weren't optimistic that Republicans would cooperate in Thursday's bipartisan summit, and said using the procedure to push through reform would probably be necessary and was likely to happen.
"It's unlikely Republicans will suddenly decide to actually govern instead of trying to just kill the bill, so we'll move forward with or without them," the second aide said. "For a year they've refused to play ball, so why would they start now?"
"It's encouraging how many Democrats have said whether it's 50 or 60, we've got to get the thing done," said the first aide.
House Republican Leader John Boehner (OH) blasted the White House draft legislation as a "Democrats-only backroom deal" that "doubles down on the same failed approach that will drive up premiums, destroy jobs, raise taxes, and slash Medicare benefits."
Boehner claimed in a statement that Obama "has crippled the credibility of this week’s summit" and alleged it "clearly has all the makings of a Democratic infomercial."
In an effort to explicate the compromises it has made, the White House on Monday published a list of Republican ideas they included in the draft bill. They include medical liability reform grants for states and allowing dependents to remain on an insurance policy until age 26.
With or without the support of the leadership, the momentum for the public option continues to grow. On Monday Sens. Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) became the 21st and 22nd senators to join the list. Its four original sponsors are Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Sherrod Brown (OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Jeff Merkley (OR).
No Republicans have signed on to the letter.
The other signatories are Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez (NJ), Arlen Specter (PA), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Chuck Schumer (NY), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Al Franken (MN), Patrick Leahy (VT), John Kerry (MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Dianne Feinstein (CA) Roland Burris (IL), Barbara Boxer (CA), Jack Reed (RI), Tom Udall (NM) and independent Bernie Sanders (VT).