Fierce proponents of a government-run health plan for months, Obama and senior administration officials, bowing to pressure from Republicans and skeptical voters, suggested that such a public option is not do-or-die.
"All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform," the president told a town hall-style audience in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday. "This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."
CLAIM: "I challenge you guys all to go back and see what we've said about this over the course of many, many, many, many months, and you'll find a boring consistency to our rhetoric," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.
THE FACTS: During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said a new public plan should offer comprehensive insurance similar to that available to federal employees.
In the first half of the year, Obama said repeatedly in speeches, weekly radio and Internet addresses and town halls that he wants a health care overhaul that has a taxpayer-funded public health insurance option. He has said the plan would compete with private insurance to keep costs down.
"That's why any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange: a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, cost and track records of a variety of plans -- including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest -- and choose what's best for your family," he said on July 18.
And in a June 3 letter to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Obama said: "I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans. This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive and keep insurance companies honest."
When Obama hedged this weekend in Colorado -- and other administration officials followed suit -- liberals cried foul and the White House insisted that the rhetoric hadn't shifted.
"Must include" became "whether we have it or don't have it."
Gibbs repeated the claim, however, in a meeting with reporters Tuesday morning, saying news stories suggesting the administration was ready to abandon the public option were overblown.
Gibbs said there was no intention to indicate a change in policy. "If it was a signal, it was a dog whistle we started blowing weeks ago."