Healthcare: Obama vs. Schumer

Give Chuck Schumer credit. He was trying really, really — yes, really — hard to pretend that the President hasn’t waffled on the public option, backing away from his commitment to liberal reform. Here’s Schumer and David Gregory on Meet the Press:

MR. GREGORY: You’re not backing away from [the public option], but there is concern within the Democratic Party that President Obama is backing away. Here was the headline in the New York Post this week that spoke for a lot of liberals, actually, both publicly and privately: “Sellout! Liberals howl as Bam `caves’ on the health plan.” This is what the reference was to, the president’s weekly radio address back in July during which he said this.

(Videotape, July 18, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: That’s why any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange, a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, costs and track records of a variety of plans–including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest–and choose what’s best for your family.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: That was July. But just a week ago the president said this.

(Videotape, August 15, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: All I’m saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: You say it’s essential, Senator Schumer; the president saying now it’s just a sliver. He’s backed away, hasn’t he?

SEN. SCHUMER: I don’t think he’s backed away at all.

Can Schumer persuade you that there’s no contradiction? Here’s the rest of his answer:

I’ve talked to the president personally about this in the last few weeks. He believes strongly in the public option. Obviously he is working hard to get a bipartisan bill, because that would be a better bill. But I believe that at the end of the day we will have a public option. And frankly, I believe we could get a public option that could be passed with the 60 Democratic votes we had. A level playing field public option, where the public option competes on a level playing field with the insurance companies, was backed in the House by both Blue Dog Democrats and more liberal Democrats. And I think that’s the direction we’re going to end up in.

Is this a word game, or is Schumer wearing rose-colored glasses? Democratic negotiator, Sen. Kent Conrad said again on Sunday that there simply are not the votes to pass the public option. If the Senate supports a co-op based reform plan, will Schumer tells us that counts as a “level playing field public option”? The only thing I’m counting on is a surprise.

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