On eve of Obama speech, Democratic divide on public option appears to deepen

Coverage of the run-up to President Obama’s speech to Congress tends to focus on the “public option” debate, and reflects statements from key Democrats that suggest the intra-party split on that issue presents a growing challenge for the President. The New York Times (9/9, A17, Calmes, Pear) notes that “Democratic Congressional leaders voiced optimism Tuesday afternoon after meeting with…Obama to plot strategy on healthcare legislation,” but “despite the Democratic leaders’ remarks, the political reality seems to be that the more liberal House will not pass a healthcare bill without a public insurance option — while the Senate will not pass one with it.” The Washington Times (9/9, Miller) points out that “the public option has become the biggest sticking point in the debate, with liberal Democrats insisting on it and moderates and Republicans balking.” That division “extends to the top ranks of the House.” The AP (9/9, Alonso-Zaldivar) likewise reports that “divisions among Democrats undercut…Obama’s effort to regain traction on his healthcare overhaul.”

AFP (9/9) notes that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said after meeting with Obama that “a government-run insurance option was ‘essential’ to passing…health reform.” Pelosi, the Washington Post (9/9, Murray, Montgomery) reports, said that the President Tuesday “indicated support for a public option,” and that “he will convey in his speech that ‘if you have a better idea, put it on the table.'” Meanwhile, Blue Dog leader Rep. Mike Ross (D-AK), “said he could no longer support a government-run plan, a shift from his position a few months ago.” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) “said he still supports a public option but could back legislation without it — a remark that ran counter to Pelosi’s insistence Tuesday that a government plan ‘is essential to our passing a bill.'”

In a front-page story, the Wall Street Journal (9/9, A1, Weisman, Adamy, subscription required) reports that Obama will come out strongly in favor of the public option tonight.” The Politico (9/9, Brown) notes that “at some point, Obama will need to go with one faction or the other — but so far has been reluctant to definitively pick sides, something that appears unlikely to change in Wednesday’s address.” Obama “appears intent on threading the needle of voicing support for a public option, while making clear he’ll sign a bill without it,” and “that will likely embolden liberals to hang on to the public option until the president unequivocally tells them no — which could prolong the agony for Democrats, and the weeks needed to get a final deal.”

More optimistic is a front-page analysis in the New York Times (9/9, A1, Stolberg), which reports that the “conventional wisdom” that healthcare reform “is on life support and that only a political miracle could revive it…might be wrong:” The Times adds that “critical players in the healthcare industry remain at the negotiating table,” and “despite tensions between moderate and liberal Democrats, there is broad agreement within the party over most of what a package would look like.”

At least 23 House Democrats have said they will oppose healthcare overhaul. The Hill (9/9, Soraghan, Gleeson) reports, “At least 23 House Democrats already have told constituents or hometown media that they oppose the massive healthcare overhaul touted by…Obama.” That means that “if Republicans offer the blanket opposition they’ve promised,” Pelosi “can afford to lose only 38 members of her 256-member caucus and still pass the bill.”

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