President Barack Obama still believes a government-run health care option would best meet his reform goals but is not demanding that it be part of overhaul legislation, White House advisers said Sunday.
The White House and lawmakers are trying to blend five House and Senate committee versions of health care legislation into a bill that will pass both houses, where near unanimous Republic opposition was expected.
House Democrats are insisting that there be a public option in competition with the private insurance industry to drive down the cost of coverage.
In the Senate, Republicans and some Democrats oppose the measure, meaning inclusion of the public option would foreclose winning the 60 votes needed to advance a bill.
Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Obama believes the public plan is still the "best possible choice," but she said he's not demanding it. David Axelrod, Obama's top adviser, said Senate opposition in both parties means "we have to work through these issues."
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who is deeply involved with congressional Democrats in trying to merge the various committee proposals, also appeared to set aside the public option.
"It's not the defining piece of health care. It's whether we achieve both cost control, coverage, as well as the choice," Emanuel said.
Labor groups say plans to finance health care reform by taxing insurance companies would end up costing middle-income Americans because the industry would simply pass along the taxes with higher premiums.
Emanuel, while not directly disputing that claim, insisted the Senate Finance Committee bill "hits the insurance companies and the high expansive and expensive plans."
Jarrett appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" while Axelrod was on ABC's "This Week." Emanuel spoke on CNN's "State of the Union."
Meanwhile, Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) voiced confidence Sunday that Senate leaders will include a government-run health insurance plan in the healthcare bill they bring to the full U.S. Senate for a vote -- and suggested it might even pass.
Dodd acknowledged that there is plenty of opposition to the so-called public option from Republicans as well as fiscally conservative Democrats.
Yet noting what has happened to other embattled legislation over the years, Dodd said, "when you end up on the floor of the Senate, you find, sometimes, you get more" support.