In an embargoed conference call with reporters early Monday morning, Obama Administration officials unveiled Obama's new healthcare reform proposal -- the first formal proposal offered by the White House after a year of Congressional wrangling failed to produce a deal -- and took reporters' questions.
Much will be written about the proposal, which one official described as an "opening bid" in advance of next Thursday's bipartisan meeting with both Democratic
and Republican leaders -- but two political blockbusters were buried in the wonkish details:
1. Obama's formal healthcare proposal is based primarily on the Senate bill, and does NOT contain any public option (and is likely to smother the nascent Senate effort to push public option through using reconciliation); and
2. Obama's proposal contains a big stick: it was designed, from the outset, to survive scrutiny under the so-called Byrd Amendment and therefore be suitable for passage
using the reconciliation process if Senate Republicans filibuster.
On the call were Linda Douglass, Director of Communications for the White House Office of Health Reform; Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director; Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform; and Jason Furman, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council (who was a policy advisor to Obama during the campaign).
Again, audio of the entire call can be heard here. The two key exchanges, however, are excerpted below, in audio:
In response to a great two-part question from Reuters, Dan Pfeiffer admitted that Obama's proposal does NOT contain the public option -- but he goes on to suggest that
this proposal was designed to survive the reconciliation process intact, despite the so-called "Byrd Rule" limiting use of econciliation to specific subject matter affecting the budget. (Also note Pfeiffer's disingenuous statement that Obama still supports a public option, at the same time as he is finally offering a bill designed for passage through reconciliation if necessary, that does not contain it.):
Pfeiffer made the threat to ram health reform through Congress using reconciliation even clearer in response to a question from FDL News' David Dayen, saying that health reform deserves an "up or down vote" and saying that "this package is designed to provide us the flexibility to achieve that if the Republican Party decides to filibuster health reform":
So, straight from the donkey's mouth: public option is out, at least as far as the White House is
concerned, but Republicans attending Thursday's bipartisan meeting now have a serious White House threat of reconciliation hanging over their heads if they continue to simply block healthcare reform instead of working cooperatively to pass it.