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Political Notebook

Obama not insisting on public option, aides say

White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said the president believes the public health care plan is still the best. White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said the president believes the public health care plan is still the best. (William B. Plowman/ Meet The Press)
Associated Press / October 19, 2009

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President Obama isn’t demanding that health care legislation include a government-run insurance option even though he believes it would best meet his reform goals, White House advisers said yesterday.

The White House and lawmakers are trying to blend five House and Senate committee versions of health care legislation into a bill that will pass both houses, where near unanimous GOP opposition was expected.

House Democrats are insisting that there be a public option in competition with the private insurance industry to drive down the cost of coverage. In the Senate, Republicans and some Democrats oppose the measure, meaning inclusion of the public option would foreclose winning the 60 votes needed to advance a bill.

Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Obama believes the public plan is still the “best possible choice,’’ but she said he’s not demanding it.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who is deeply involved with Democrats in trying to merge the various committee proposals, also appeared to set aside the public option.

“It’s not the defining piece of health care. It’s whether we achieve both cost control, coverage, as well as the choice,’’ Emanuel said.

Obama promoted his health care initiative Saturday in his weekly radio and online address and challenged policy makers to resist special interests. He accused the insurance industry of “filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads’’ and paying for studies “designed to mislead the American people.’’

N.Y. House race described as test for GOP and Obama
President Obama and President Clinton are lending their political star power to an unlikely Democratic bid to win a special congressional election in an area of New York that’s been a Republican bastion for more than a century.

The Nov. 3 contest in upstate New York’s 23d Congressional District, an 11-county area where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by 45,000, is shaping up as a test of a struggling GOP and a possible gauge of Obama’s coattails.

Obama, who carried the district by 5 percentage points in his landslide victory in New York last year, forced the special election when he named the incumbent, Republican John McHugh, his Army secretary.

The president will host a fund-raiser for the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, tomorrow in New York City. The seat is one of three that the Republicans control in the state’s 29-member congressional delegation.

In a fund-raising e-mail for Owens, Clinton called the special election “bigger than just one candidate or one office . . . victory or defeat will also be seen as a referendum on President Obama’s agenda.’’

Owens, 60, a Plattsburgh lawyer and retired Air Force captain, is one of three candidates competing for the seat. The others are Republican Dierdre Scozzafava, 49, a state Assemblywoman, and conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, 59, a businessman.

An Oct. 15 survey by Siena College showed Owens with 33 percent, Scozzafava with 29 percent, and Hoffman with 23 percent.