By Jared Allen and Molly K. Hooper - 10/23/09 03:44 PM EDT
Pelosi (D-Calif.) called an emergency meeting of her caucus Friday morning to declare that she has not abandoned the push for including that provision in a healthcare bill.
The Speaker met late Thursday night with the Progressive Caucus, the bloc of Democrats most supportive of a robust public option, and assured them that it was still on the table, according to a member in attendance.
The Hill reported Thursday night that a survey of Democrats shows Pelosi and her leadership team are a handful of votes short of the 218 they need to guarantee passage of a healthcare bill containing the public option favored by liberals. That public option would be tied to current Medicare rates for hospitals and "Medicare plus 5 percent” for doctors.
The results of the survey set off rumors that Pelosi was planning to admit defeat on a goal she has consistently guaranteed would be met.
At Friday’s caucus meeting, leaders took a roll call of those members in attendance — 196 of the 256 House Democrats — on a single question: Do you support a robust public option?
A member supportive of a robust public option said there was “overwhelming support” for a “Medicare plus 5 percent” public option among those members in attendance.
But this member also said that the votes of as many as 50 of the 60 absent members could still be up in the air.
If all Republicans vote no on the healthcare bill, Pelosi can lose no more than 38 votes from within her caucus on any eventual healthcare bill.
In speaking with reporters later, Pelosi had a difficult time admitting that her caucus was not prepared to accept a "robust public option" in the Democratic bill.
Despite the "congenial," "lively" and "friendly" caucus meeting Friday morning, Pelosi told reporters that "the answer is no -- no decision on that has been made."
Reporters peppered the speaker and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) with questions on the failure to twist enough arms in favor of a robust option at a press conference with Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) on a provision to close the Medicare "donut hole."
Pelosi said unequivocally, however, that "at the end of the day we will have a public option in our legislation."
Clyburn explained that the leaders had been shopping four different versions of a government-run plan around to the Democratic caucus but have yet to determine which to include.
“We are still in the process of determining which public option suits the majority of our caucus,” Clyburn said.
Mike Soraghan contributed to this article.
This story was updated at 1 p.m.