White House official: Public option 'not an end in and of itself'

Senior administration officials were in good spirits Wednesday afternoon, confident that President Barack Obama can turn the tide in the healthcare debate by way of his joint address to Congress.

The officials, speaking on background to reporters, said the president would make clear Wednesday night what he envisions healthcare reform to look like, and they stressed that the debate over the public health insurance option is only one part of the debate.

ADVERTISEMENT
An official said that while Obama will defend his belief that the public option is the best way to ensure quality and competition, "this is not a national debate about the public option."

"The public option is the means to an end," the official said. "It's not an end in and of itself."

One official downplayed the narrative that August had been a disaster for the White House, saying that all "meaningful data" consumed by the administration showed "very little movement" between the start of August and now.

"Any downward movement, frankly, occurred in June and July" when the public was forced to watch the sausage-making portion of the debate, the official said.

The official said that Wednesday night's address was a chance for Obama to clarify his position to an American public that has spent the summer focusing on "the trees and not the forest."

"Tonight is the night when he can describe the forest in terms people can understand," the official said.

The official also defended the White House's strategy, saying, "We've had a strategy from the beginning.

"The strategy was to encourage Congress to do its work," the official said, adding that the White House views that strategy as a success because it "flushed out a lot of ideas."

To that end, the official said, part of the success lies in the notion that Republicans have "been forced to subsume into their rhetoric an acknowledgment that we have a healthcare problem."

The official even took a shot at 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's Wall Street Journal op-ed "that I know she wrote herself, even as she considered all the complexities of this issue."

Obama's address to Congress is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time.