White House downplays outcry over public option

The White House sought to tamp down on the negative reaction from liberals upset that the administration might push healthcare legislation without a public insurance option, dismissing it as old news.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Senate and House Democrats who have been howling since Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusThe House needs to help patients from being victimized by antiquated technology Obama cabinet official: Clinton White House doubled down on 'abusive behavior' John Roberts has tough job of keeping faith in Supreme Court MORE said on a Sunday news show that the public option is "not essential" should note that what she said is nothing new.

"I think they read your-all's stories that were an overreaction to what Secretary Sebelius said," Gibbs said.

Even as Democrats and Republicans interpreted Sebelius's comments as a signal of compromise or retreat on the matter, Gibbs said there was no intent for Sebelius to float a trial balloon and what she said is consistent with what the White House and the president have said all along.

"If it was a signal, it was a dog whistle we started blowing three months ago, and it just got picked up," Gibbs said. "It's crazy. It's not a signal."

Gibbs said the president has not called any lawmakers concerned about the comments.

Gibbs reiterated that the president's preference to create competition and quality in health insurance is through a public option, but Obama is willing to listen to other ideas that would achieve the same outcome.