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Daschle Admits -- Then Denies -- That White House Agreed With Industry To Scrap Public Option

by Brian Beutler

In a candid interview with the Center for American Progress [on Tuesday], former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle acknowledged that the public option didn't survive the health care debate because of a "understanding" that the White House reached with health care industry stakeholders -- particularly with hospital and insurance company trade associations. But the White House has long denied this suggestion -- which was, until now, based mostly on speculation -- and within hours of the report's initial publication, Daschle, a close White House ally, retracted his statement entirely.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle acknowledged that the public option didn't survive the health care debate because of a "understanding" that the White House reached with health care industry stakeholders. He later walked back this admission. (File image) "I don't think it was taken off the table completely. It was taken off the table as a result of the understanding that people had with the hospital association, with the insurance (AHIP), and others," Daschle told Wonk Room's Igor Volsky. "I mean I think that part of the whole effort was based on a premise. That premise was, you had to have the stakeholders in the room and at the table. Lessons learned in past efforts is that without the stakeholders' active support rather than active opposition, it's almost impossible to get this job done. They wanted to keep those stakeholders in the room and [the public option] was the price some thought they had to pay."

That rendering flies in the face of the White House's narrative, so TPM emailed Daschle to ask whether his statement reflected first-hand knowledge of the stakeholder negotiations, or was a conclusion he'd drawn independently. In response, he walked back the entire claim.

"In describing some of the challenges to passage of the public option in the health reform bill, I did not mean to suggest in any way that the President was not committed to it," Daschle emails. "The President fought for the public option just as he did for affordable health care for all Americans. The public option was dropped only when it was no longer viable in Congress, not as a result of any deal cut by the White House. While I was disappointed that the public option was not included in the final legislation, the Affordable Care Act remains a tremendous achievement for the President and the nation."

And so the game of whodunnit continues.

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