Obama Maintains Public Option is Viable for Health Care Reform

President Obama says his position on including a government-run option for health care reform has not changed, despite the outcry from liberals over his comments last weekend that he would consider an alternative.

In an interview with Philadelphia-based radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, Obama said a public option should be considered as part of health care legislation.

"I see nothing wrong with having public option as one choice," he said, adding that it would offer affordable choices but that no one should be "obligated to go into a public plan."

"We said that's a good idea, but we haven't said that's the only one," he said.

The president added that the goal of health care reform remains the same.

"Our position hasn't changed," he said. "We think the key is cost control, competition, making sure people have good quality options. If we achieve that, that's the end we're seeking and the means, we can have some good arguments about what the best way to achieve that. But we got to change because the status quo is unsustainable."

Obama's appearance on conservative radio was part of an ongoing effort to regain control of the health care debate. Smerconish is generally considered a conservative, though he endorsed Obama for president last year and supports abortion rights.

Later Thursday, Obama participated in an online forum held by his political organization, Organizing for America. The group is trying to rally members in support of Obama's health care drive, which some say has stalled as public backlash grows, most notably at town halls hosted by Democratic lawmakers across the country.

The president is finding it hard to forge a bipartisan bill that pleases all groups across the political divide. Republicans believe Obama's plan will lead to a government takeover of health care; conservative Democrats are concerned the costs will add to the federal deficit over 10 years; and liberals fear too many concessions by the White House will water down the final product.

"If you look at what's been happening in the White House over the last week, it looks a little bit like a three-ring circus to me, because you've got people doing back flips, you've got trial balloons, public option vs. the co-op," political analyst Juan Williams told FOX News. "The minute the wind blows one way or another, the White House tries to accommodate it."

Williams was referring to the Obama administration embracing the idea of using nonprofit cooperatives as a substitute for a government-run health insurance plan. But prominent liberals, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, maintain that co-ops won't offer strong enough competition to private insurers.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says Obama is struggling in efforts to get a health care overhaul bill because he has been too deferential to the liberal wing of his party.

Interviewed Thursday on CBS's "The Early Show," Romney said he thinks the president must shoulder the blame for the gridlock surrounding health care legislation. He said Obama gave too much influence to Pelosi and others.

"If the president wants to get something done," Romney said, "he needs to put aside the extreme liberal wing of his party." He said Medicare and Medicaid already account for virtually half of health care, and there shouldn't be any greater federal role.

If no bipartisan bill is possible, some Democratic leaders are considering using a budgetary tactic known as "reconciliation" to ram through health care legislation. This tactic would allow health care to get passed in the Senate with a simple majority instead of 60 votes.

But some warn that this tactic carries significant political risk.

"You completely polarize the country and make it more difficult for the president's agenda," Democratic pollster Doug Schoen told FOX News. "I believe we have to govern on a higher plane and we have to seek consensus if we are going to succeed as a nation."

Schoen warned that using reconciliation could give Republicans an advantage in the midterm elections next year.

"People like Harry Reid and Christopher Dodd and Barbara Boxer are showing vulnerability in the polls," he said. "There is reason to believe that the Democrats, for the first time in a couple of elections are vulnerable."