By Sam Youngman - 08/19/09 03:10 PM EDT
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs conceded Wednesday that the Obama administration has made some missteps while promoting its healthcare overhaul, but warned doubters that the legislative debate is far from over.
"I don't think anybody here believes we've pitched a no-hit game, or a perfect game," said Gibbs, who was bombarded again with questions about whether President Barack Obama will attempt to strip a public insurance option from the final bill or move the overhaul without Republican votes.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Sunday said a public option was “not essential” to reform. Since then, liberal Democrats have let Sebelius know they disagree and have sought assurances that the public option will be kept in the final legislation.
Gibbs said reports about whether the White House would cave on a public option are being "contrived almost entirely" by the media, but admitted the administration’s messaging has not been perfect, either. But there's time to recover, he noted.
"The argument is not over. The discussion is not over. The debate is not over. The legislative process is not over," Gibbs said.
Gibbs deflected questions about whether the White House would push for a special budgetary process known as reconciliation that would allow senators to pass the healthcare bill with a simple majority, thereby eliminating the need for any Republican support.
"Our focus is not on what happens if," Gibbs said. "Our focus is on the here and now."
Gibbs said the president continues to take it "in good faith" that Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee are looking for a solution, but he acknowledged the White House's belief that many Republicans have solidified their opposition to any legislation in an effort to score political points.
Gibbs said the president believes he is making progress on healthcare reform, and he disputed the idea that the criticisms of some centrist Democrats mean something can't get done.
"There are Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee that voted out a bill on the House side before we left for recess," Gibbs said. "So I think this notion that it's impossible even to get agreement on our side on what a healthcare plan looks like belies the notion that this is a piece of legislation that went through not one, not two, but three committees on the House side."