Progressive bloggers and activists are up in arms about White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' assertion Tuesday that "there isn't enough political support" to pass a public option for health care through Congress.

Asked why President Obama's health reform proposal, unveiled Monday, didn't include a public option, Gibbs said, “There are some that are supportive of this," evidently referring to the 23 US senators who have signed a letter urging the public option to be passed through the reconciliation process.

But "there isn’t enough political support in the majority to get this through,” Gibbs said.

That assertion drew harsh criticism from some corners of the progressive community. AmericaBlog's Joe Sudbay declared: "The leader of the free world can't wrangle up 50 votes in the Senate for a provision that polls much better than the president's own health care plan? Doesn't anyone at the White House know how to corral votes on the Hill?"

Sudbay was referring to a recent series of polls from Research 2000 showing the public option to be far more popular, in key battleground states, than the Senate bill, which does not include the public option and is very similar to the health reform proposal the president unveiled this week.

In bellwether Iowa, for example, 35 percent support the Senate bill, while 62 percent support the public option. In Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faces re-election this year, 34 percent support the Senate bill, while 62 percent support the public option.


Some of the harshest criticism of the White House's stand came from Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign, who was quoted at Huffington Post as saying Gibbs' declaration proved that a "loser mentality" had seized the Obama administration.

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. ... 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.

Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are among 23 US senators who have signed a letter to the Democratic leadership urging them to pass the public option through reconciliation.

Reconciliation, usually reserved for budget measures, would allow lawmakers to overcome a Republican filibuster and pass health reform with 51 votes, instead of the 60 needed under a filibuster.

But The Hill notes that "putting their full support behind a public option could be a risky bet for Reid and the White House without knowing for sure whether or not they have 51 senators who would vote for the plan."

With the addition of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) Tuesday, there are now 23 Senate Democrats who are publicly voicing support for passing the public option through reconciliation. That is well short of the 51 votes needed to pass the measure. But Sen. Menendez told MSNBC Tuesday that he expects many more Democrats to sign on.

"There is a lot more people who I believe will join," Menendez said, as quoted at The Hill. "When you get to a certain number, there is a tipping point and people who may have felt like it's not possible may feel it's possible."

Yet the White House's comments may have taken a bite out of some of that momentum. An aide to the Democratic Senate leadership told TalkingPointsMemo last week that, in order to get the 50 votes needed, the effort would "need a big push from the White House." And the White House's efforts on the public option so far, the aide said, have been "circumspect."