Reid, Pelosi voice confidence after White House healthcare meeting


Democratic congressional leaders emerged from a White House meeting Tuesday saying they’re confident the president’s address to Congress will move healthcare reform closer to passage.

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At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave mixed messages following their meeting with President Barack Obama on whether the public insurance option prized by liberals will be part of a final bill.

Reid (D-Nev.) said he and the majority of the Senate continued to believe that the public option was preferable, but he did not insist on its inclusion.

Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has repeatedly said the option will be included in the bill that passes the House, was more adamant.

“I believe that a public option would be essential for our passing a bill in the House of Representatives,” Pelosi said.

House liberals have warned they’ll oppose a healthcare bill with no public option. But centrist Democrats, particularly in the Senate, worry a public insurance plan would put private insurers out of business.

Pelosi said she joins the White House in welcoming another proposal that would ensure competition, lower prices and increase quality. But Pelosi added that “for the moment” there is “overwhelming support” for the public option in the House.

Neither leader gave much of an indication on what Obama will specifically lay out in terms of the public option in his Wednesday night address to a joint session of Congress.

Reid said Obama did not offer him or Pelosi a “dress rehearsal” of the joint address, but the majority leader did say he was confident that the speech would “put aside some of the ridiculous falsehoods that have been perpetrated over the past few weeks.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that Obama wants to speak directly to Americans to clear up any confusion and clearly define his vision for healthcare reform.

While he declined to offer specifics, Gibbs said the president “will answer many of the big questions about how we move forward on healthcare reform.”

Gibbs did say that Obama would make sure the American people “understand what the public option is and what the public option isn't.”

Reid said there is “90 percent” agreement on healthcare reform, but he and Pelosi said getting a deal on that final 10 percent will be the hardest part.

Despite recent reports that Democrats are mulling the use of special rules that would allow them to move healthcare legislation through the Senate with only a majority vote, Reid said he and the president still want a bipartisan bill. He said they will use special budget-reconciliation rules only if they have “no alternative.”

Obama has long said that Congress is in 80 percent agreement, and senior administration officials said over the weekend that Wednesday night's address will outline how Obama envisions bringing aboard the remaining 20 percent.

Obama's address was further complicated Tuesday by the release of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) draft proposal, which did not include a public option.

Reid said he had not seen Baucus's draft legislation, so he could not comment on it.

Gibbs conceded that the debate was nearing the end and Wednesday night's address is critical.

“Are the stakes important? Of course,” Gibbs said.

He disputed the idea, though, that the remarks were make-or-break for healthcare reform.

“If we added up all the make-or-break days, you'd generally see all the days we have in a calendar,” he said.