An administration official said tonight that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "misspoke" when she told CNN this morning that a government run health insurance option "is not an essential part" of reform. This official asked not to be identified in exchange for providing clarity about the intentions of the President. The official said that the White House did not intend to change its messaging and that Sebelius simply meant to echo the president, who has acknowledged that the public option is a tough sell in the Senate and is, at the same time, a must-pass for House Democrats, and is not, in the president's view, the most important element of the reform package.
A second official, Linda Douglass, director of health reform communications for the administration, said that President Obama believed that a public option was the best way to reduce costs and promote competition among insurance companies, that he had not backed away from that belief, and that he still wanted to see a public option in the final bill."Nothing has changed," she said. "The President has always said that what is essential that health insurance reform lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and increase choice and competition in the health insurance market. He believes that the public option is the best way to achieve these goals."
A third White House official, via e-mail, said that Sebelius didn't misspeak. "The media misplayed it," the third official said.
I talked to my White House "source" about this story, and he said that Sec. Sebelius may have become confused on the public option's status after she met Joe Biden for breakfast briefly before her television appearance yesterday morning. Apparently, the White House has now implemented certain protective measures to make sure that Joey does not have any further access to cabinet members.
Okay, I really don't have a White House source, but is there really another plausible explanation for how the Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services could have "misspoke" on such a fundamental issue? Seriously, say what you will about President Bush's administration, but at least it did not have to repeatedly walk back statements that its officials made while attempting to advance President Bush's policy positions.
And I have a question for Mr. Ambinder's third White House source, who claimed that the media "misplayed" Sec. Sebelius's statement: um, how does accurately reporting Sec. Sebilius's own statement count as a "misplay?"