Democrats Soften On Health Care, Harden On War President Obama has long championed a government-controlled insurance plan known as the public option. But with Republicans and centrist Democrats firmly opposed, Obama now says he's open to other ideas to make coverage affordable. Some key Democrats likewise softened their insistence on a public option. But they had words of warning on the war in Afghanistan.
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Democrats Soften On Health Care, Harden On War

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Democrats Soften On Health Care, Harden On War

Democrats Soften On Health Care, Harden On War

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

After a big speech last week on revamping health care, the president kept up his new offensive over the weekend. He rallied supporters in Minneapolis on Saturday, and last night he made his case again on CBS's "60 minutes."

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESIDENT OBAMA'S SPEECH, CBS'S "60 MINUTES")

BARACK OBAMA: I believe that we will have enough votes to pass, not just any health care bill, but a good health care bill that helps the American people, reduces costs, actually over the long term controls our deficit. I'm confident that we've got that.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: Top White House advisor David Axelrod told CBS's "Face The Nation" that President Obama still believes a public option is a good idea, as do many other people, but there's plenty of opposition in Congress to a public option. Just as the president seemed to backpedal on the issue in his speech to Congress last Wednesday, Axelrod too played down the necessity of a public option.

DAVID AXELROD: This is not the whole of health insurance reform, and we should not let the whole debate devolve into this one question, circulate around this one question.

WELNA: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, who's a close ally of the president, was asked if the public option is dead. Durbin responded, he wouldn't go that far, but he did not insist on having one in the Senate bill.

DICK DURBIN: I don't know what the Senate bill will look like coming out of the Finance and Health Committee, but we've got to have - at least be true to the principle the president said. Make sure there's competition for these private health insurance companies.

WELNA: New Hampshire Democratic senator, Jeanne Shaheen has been a big supporter of the public option, but on CNN's "State of the Union," she too seemed to close ranks with President Obama on the issue.

JEANNE SHAHEEN: I think keeping our eye on what we're trying to accomplish, what our goals are, what we need to do. There are a number of ways to get there and we need to keep focused on the goal.

WELNA: On CBS's "Face the Nation," Maine Republican senator, Olympia Snowe said the bipartisan Health Care Bill she's been drafting with five other members of the Finance Committee will be unveiled this week, and it will propose member- owned health insurance co-operatives rather than a public plan.

OLYMPIA SNOWE: I've urged the president to take the public option off the table, because it's universally opposed by our Republicans in the Senate, and therefore there is no way to pass a plan that includes a public option.

WELNA: But as some key Democrats have fallen in step with the president on a public option, he's hearing a growing chorus of worries on Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, who commands all NATO forces there, is to brief members of Congress this week on the war. And he's expected to request more combat troops. Obama ally Durbin gave that a thumbs down on "Meet the Press."

DURBIN: I think at this point, sending additional troops would not be the right thing to do.

WELNA: Another powerful Senate Democrat, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California told "State of the Union" she's opposed to any open-ended commitment in Afghanistan.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I believe the mission should be time limited. That there should be no, well, we'll let you know in a year-and-a-half depending on how we do. I think the Congress is entitled to know, after Iraq, exactly how long are we going to be in Afghanistan?

WELNA: On the same show, more misgivings on Afghanistan came from the Senate Homeland Security Committee's top Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

SUSAN COLLINS: I just don't know that more troops is the answer. We clearly need more American civilians to help build up institutions. We need to grow the size of the Afghan Army, but we're dealing with widespread corruption, a very difficult terrain, and I'm just wondering where this ends.

WELNA: Indeed President Obama's decision to send another 21,000 troops this year to Afghanistan had only one staunch defender on the CNN show, the House of Representatives' number two Republican, Eric Cantor.

ERIC CANTOR: We know that the Taliban and others can return to that region and have a stronghold, and we cannot allow that to happen.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.

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