POLITICS

NBC: White House Still Skeptical Public Option Has Votes

NBC News correspondent Chuck Todd reported Tuesday morning that the Obama White House, despite public expressions of support for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to pursue an opt-out public insurance option, remains skeptical that Reid can come up with the votes.

The administration basically told Reid, "You're the vote counter. But don't come crying to us when you need that last vote," Todd said on MSNBC.

[UPDATE: Todd tells blogger Greg Sargent that he didn't mean that was the actual message the White House was sending. "It was 'as if' they were sending that message," Todd wrote to Sargent. "I feel like my quote is being a tad twisted."]

On Monday, an administration official called Reid's decision to go ahead with an opt-out public option "dangerous."

Reid's plan, which would allow states to opt out of a public health care plan, was proposed to the senator just three weeks ago. It satisfies progressives' desire for a public option while giving cover to more conservative Democrats.

Obama privately discouraged Senate Democrats from pursuing the opt-out plan, believing it wouldn't get enough votes to pass a filibuster. His concern was that by abandoning a trigger, the caucus would not only lose the lone Republican -- Olympia Snowe -- but also several conservative Democratic members. Public option supporters, however, don't consider the trigger to be a viable alternative; it could easily be written so that it's never pulled.

"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," a senior Democratic source told the Huffington Post, 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 despite their private griping, publicly the White House is standing behind the Senate proposal. In a statement, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president is "pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage."

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