White House insists it wants bipartisan health bill

The White House on Wednesday rejected reports that it is abandoning its effort to secure a bipartisan healthcare reform bill.

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White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration remains committed to drawing Republican support for the bill, particularly in the Senate.

“I don't know why we would short-circuit that now,” Gibbs told reporters.

He said the White House believes some Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee “are still working in a constructive way to get reform through the Senate and ultimately to the president's desk.”

Gibbs was reacting to a story in The New York Times that said Democrats were moving toward going it alone on healthcare given Republican opposition to healthcare reform.

The story quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as stating that opposition from Republicans over the August recess was evidence the GOP had made a political calculation to oppose any healthcare changes.

“The Republican leadership has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day,” Emanuel said in the Times story.

But Gibbs on Wednesday morning said there have been no discussions at the White House about pursuing a Democrats-only strategy on healthcare reform.

While he said the White House believes some Republicans will oppose healthcare reform no matter what is in it, “that’s not all Republicans.”

Three Republicans and three Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have been trying to work out a compromise on healthcare reform that could attract additional Republican votes.

Their work so far has failed to result in a draft bill, however, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a key Republican negotiator in the talks, has repeatedly criticized Democratic proposals on healthcare reform over the summer. He’s done so as he’s dealt with criticism of the healthcare reform efforts at town hall events in Iowa.

Grassley’s comments have led to doubts among liberals that he will ever support a final healthcare bill.

The White House this week has been dealing with criticism from the left, which was outraged at reports of weakening administration support for including a public health insurance option in the healthcare bill. Gibbs for the past several days has worked to shoot down those reports, repeatedly stating the White House still supports a public option as one way to create more choice and competition in the insurance market.

Grassley and most Republicans oppose including a public option in a healthcare plan, and they’ve been joined in criticizing the effort by centrist Democrats.

Some Democrats want the administration to use special budget reconciliation rules that could allow a healthcare reform bill to move through the Senate with only 51 votes. That would negate the need for Republican support.

Gibbs said the administration has made no decision on using that controversial process.

“I don't know why on Aug. 19, we’d decide on something that's going to happen in September or October that the possibility is only 51 votes,” Gibbs said.

Using the reconciliation process would draw criticism Republicans and some Democrats, but would make it much easier to move a healthcare bill with no GOP support.

Former President George W. Bush used reconciliation rules to move tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Republicans have argued using the rules to reform healthcare would be different because of the scope of the legislation.

This story was posted at 10:43 and updated at 11:05.