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The White House Yo-Yo Continues

So Bill Burton got peppered with questions about that anonymous “x said y” story and the public option today, and Jed Lewison flagged the comments:

Q: Can you talk about the opt-in versus opt-out public option? It seems like there’s apparently a vote being taken as you and I speak this moment in a caucus in the House on all of this. Do you — does the President believe that some sort of public option will be in both bills when they pass the floors? And does he favor some particular approach to the public option that he thinks is the most likely to pass?

MR. BURTON: This may surprise you, but the President didn’t send his number two spokesperson to the back of the plane to roll out a new position on the public option today. (Laughter.) The President thinks that the public option is the best way to achieve choice and competition and bring down health care costs for the American people. And he will continue to ensure that it is achieved in the final health care reform legislation.

Q: Can you tell us what the President’s message was to the congressional leaders that came to the White House last night? There wasn’t much by way of a readout last night.

MR. BURTON: The President and leadership from the Senate had a very productive conversation about the way forward as it relates to health care reform, and they’re going to continue to work day and night to make sure that it gets done […]

Q: What’s going on with the vote counts? Valerie took a shot at Mike Allen this morning on MS saying that he probably — she doesn’t know if he can count votes. The White House obviously can count votes. Are there the votes there in the House for the public option?

MR. BURTON: Far be it from me to question Valerie’s assessment of Mike Allen’s vote counting. However, I will say that the President continues to think that the public option is the best way to achieve choice and competition, and that’s what he’s working towards.

Q: But are the votes there?

MR. BURTON: We’re working on getting health care reform done, and in order to do that, obviously you’re going to need some votes in the United States Senate to move it forward, and that’s what we’re working on.

This is basically nothing. It’s a repudiation of those remarks from the night before, but not a strong clarion call of support nor an announcement of a bright line on it. In other words, what we’ve known for months: the White House wants health care reform. I don’t think this shows that the White House is working on getting votes for the public option in the Senate, as The Hill suggests. I don’t think it really shows much of anything.

Where we are getting some definition on this thing is in the House. After today’s public whip session and Raul Grijalva’s assertion that the caucus was “6 or seven votes short” of a Medicare +5% public option, Chris Bowers has come up with a credible list of members who are on the fence but gettable to confirm their support.

House whip count update, from sources very close to the process (yeah, take anonymous sources as you will):

1. First, we are making progress. All of the “lean yes” votes on the whip count chart have become solid yes votes.

2. Second, don’t bother with Boyd, Berry, Ellsworth, Hill, Gordon or Tanner.

3. Most importantly, put heavy pressure on the following eight members:

Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8): 202-225-2542, 520-459-3115, 520-881-3588
Dennis Cardoza (CA-18): 202-225-6131; 209-383-4455, 209-527-1914
Joe Donnelly (IN-2): 202-225-3915, 574-288-2780
Curt Schraeder (OR-05): 202-225-5711, 503-588-9100
Lincoln Davis (TN-04): 202-225-6831, 931-490-8699, 931-473-7251
Glenn Nye (VA-2): 202-225-4215 757-326-6201
Jim Costa (CA-20): 202-225-3341, 661-869-1620, 559-495-1620
Rick Boucher (VA-9): 202-225-3861, 276-628-1145

4. We still have time. I am told the decision won’t be made until early next week.

I’ve heard the same list. FWIW, Melissa Bean (D-IL), Bob Etheridge (D-NC), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Jason Altmire (D-PA), and Zach Space (D-OH) are second-tier targets. Anonymously provided or not, these sound like precisely the kind of members who would be in the middle position. And frankly, everyone in the New Democrat and Blue Dog caucuses could use a push over the weekend.

A lot of these members a) don’t want to “walk the plank” and vote for something when the Senate won’t, b) have made themselves undecided so they can extract something for their districts. The key to me would be to make them hear the voices from their constituents ASAP.

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David Dayen

David Dayen