In a sign of a split within the Democratic party over a public option in the healthcare reform, top party and government officials have been sending contradicting signals in recent days.
Appearing on a talk show last weekend, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged that there needs to be "a competitor" to private insurers, but declined to say whether or not it will be in the form of a public option.
Meanwhile, Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said a public option did not have enough support among congressional Democrats.
This has ignited a political firestorm, with some accusing President Obama of not keeping his electoral promises.
As a result, White House aide Linda Douglass issued a statement yesterday in which she reiterated her boss’s commitment to a government-run competitor as the best way to achieve lower costs, affordable coverage and increased competition in the health insurance market.
Several key Democrats also appeared to endorse the public option, including Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Speaking on Monday at Drexel University, Specter said, "I’m not willing to write off the public option [which] I think is the best approach to give people choices," quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Dropping the public option idea would have satisfied congressional Republicans and conservative Democrats, but came under fierce criticism from the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said the only thing in the House reform bill worth doing was the public option, according to TheHill.com.