Democrats Give Obama an Earful on Government-Run Health Care Option

President Obama held a conference call with more than two-dozen House progressives Friday about health care reform -- and their adamant demand for the public option.

Two Democrats on the call were far more talkative about the exchange than was the White House. Aides said the president, who is at Camp David for an extended long holiday weekend, listened carefully to the lawmakers but offered no assurances on policy. The White House did not release a formal statement describing the general contents of the legislative call.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., released a statement on behalf of the various progressive caucuses represented on the conference call, designed, Lee said, to pressure Obama to hold the line on the so-called public option, a government-financed move into private health insurance markets.

"Today's discussion with President Obama was a useful and productive conversation," Lee said. "I along with other members of the caucuses once again stressed the importance of including a strong, robust public health option like Medicare in health reform. A strong and robust public option is the cornerstone of any real effort at comprehensive health care reform.

"Additionally, we expressed the importance of expanding prevention and wellness services and particularly the need for health disparity elimination provisions -- such as health equity, data collection, workforce diversity and community health workers -- which are necessary to address the root causes of the health inequities that disproportionately and detrimentally affect racial and ethnic minorities, women, rural Americans and Americans within the U.S. Territories.

"President Obama expressed his appreciation for our input and ensured us that he was taking our views seriously. We hope to continue this dialogue next week prior to the President's address to Congress,” Lee said.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which Lee chairs, participated in the conference call, as did members of the Hispanic Caucus and the Asia-Pacific Islander Caucus and Progressive Caucus.

Progressive Caucus leader Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., told The Associated Press liberals urged Obama to hear their pleas for a public option, this amid rising anxiety on the left the much-cherished government-funded alternative to private insurance may be a casualty in the health reform end game.

Meanwhile, six members of the Senate Finance committee -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- held a separate two-hour conference call today as they pursue a bi-partsian bill that would not only create reforms, but determine how to pay for them.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., leads the so-called "gang."

"Today's call was a productive one," Baucus said in a statement. "We addressed a number of issues at hand and the next steps moving forward. We agree we need to take control of health care costs and make health insurance affordable for families and small businesses. We agree all Americans should be able to choose - and be able to afford - a quality health care plan. And, we agree health care reform should be fiscally responsible and not add to the deficit."

Lastly, the White House said Obama was considering drafting his own health care bill to break a legislative logjam. This took congressional Democratic leaders by surprise. There is no certainty the White House will send its own bill to the Hill, but an official said it was a possibility.

"The president has been reviewing all of the various legislative proposals, but no decision has been made about whether formal legislation will be presented," said Linda Douglass, Obama's health care communications adviser.