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Gibbs Maintains No Shift On Public Option

Today's White House press briefing was a nightmare for those seeking clarity on the administration's stance on the public option, as Robert Gibbs stuck to his guns in arguing that the media misinterpreted his and Kathleen Sebelius' comments this weekend as representing a shift.

"We have a goal of fostering choice and competition in the private health insurance market. The president prefers a public option as a way of doing that," he said. "If others have ideas, we're open to those ideas and willing to listen to those details. That's what the president has said for months. Coincidentally that's what the secretary of Health and Human Services has said for months. It's what I've said for months."

Near the end of the briefing, however, Gibbs himself made a statement of the sort that has so ired liberals lately. Asked at one point whether competition must come from the government, he said, "It doesn't have to."

"The president's reform is built on a private insurance structure, where the vast majority of people receive their health care benefits through their employer from private entities," he said.

Earlier, a number of reporters tried to find daylight between previous public statements from the president and what Secretary Sebelius and the president himself said this weekend, but Gibbs repeatedly denied it. "Any suggestion somehow that anything that was said Saturday or Sunday as being new administration policy is just not something that I would agree with," he said, challenging reporters at times to re-read transcripts.

Asked why President Obama has not made any public statements since this weekend on health care, Gibbs noted it was mentioned yesterday during his VFW speech. Beyond that, "We don't think there's anything to clean up," Gibbs said. "What was said by the secretary on Sunday was completely consistent with what she said five weeks earlier. Why would I bring the president out today to clear up what she said five weeks ago?"

Sebelius herself tried to clean up her comments during an appearance in Washington today. "Absolutely nothing has changed," she said. "We continue to support the public option that will have lower costs, give American consumers more choice and keep private insurers honest. If people have other ideas about how to accomplish those goals, we'll look at those too."