President Barack Obama said he is confident Congress will pass "a good health care bill," as months of rancor over reforming the U.S. health care system seemed to be easing Sunday, with the White House playing down an immediate role for a government insurance option.
At the same time, Obama was critical of Republican opponents who he said were trying to block an overhaul of the national heath care system for political gain.
"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," Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes. "There are those in the Republican party who think the best thing to do is just to kill reform. That that will be good politics."
Obama has retaken the offensive on his key domestic policy issue, most notably with a speech last week to both houses of Congress. And sought to turn down the heat over a government-run health insurance plan.
"The public option is only a means to that end and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal," he said.
Obama is trying to push opposing lawmakers away from positions — both left and right — that were threatening stalemate. That's what happened when Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, tried to push through an overhaul in the 1990s.
Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, drove home that point again Sunday.
The president "prefers the public option," Gibbs said. "However, he said what's most important is choice and competition."
And Sen. Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who could be the party's only senator who votes with Democrats, believes choice and competition can be ensured without the public option.
"It's not on the table. And it won't be," she said Sunday. "We'll be using the co-op as an option at this point, as the means for injecting competition in the process," she said.
Snowe sits on a six-member panel — three from each party — of the Senate Finance Committee that is writing a version of the health care overhaul bill.
Instead of the government running a program that provides low-cost health insurance, Snowe and fellow negotiators are considering a not-for-profit cooperative system. Those backing the measure contend it would substantially lower health insurance premiums by cutting out private-industry profits and guarantee coverage to all who want it.
Such systems exist in some areas of America but their success has been spotty.
And Obama will have to be convinced that such a plan can succeed.
"I have no interest in having a bill get passed that fails. That doesn't work," Obama told CBS. "You know, I intend to be president for a while and once this bill passes, I own it."
Obama wants to make sure that any overhaul imposes strict measures to ban companies from refusing insurance to people with existing medical conditions, dropping coverage when policyholders become ill and imposing caps on what a person can claim for one illness or in his lifetime.
He told CBS he didn't want Americans to say in the future: "'You know what? This hasn't reduced my costs. My premiums are still going up 25 percent, insurance companies are still jerking me around.'
"I'm the one who's going to be held responsible," Obama said. "So I have every incentive to get this right."
The United States is the only major democracy without a national health insurance system, with some 47 million citizens lacking coverage. Many Americans depend on workplace-linked health insurance partially subsidized by their employers, which they can lose if they lose their job.
Obama is trying to sweeten the legislative deal for Republicans by indicating he is open to their ideas.
In his Wednesday speech and again in the CBS interview, the president signaled he was open the idea of so-called tort reform. Under current practice, doctors and hospitals must pay huge amounts to insure themselves against malpractice lawsuits by patients seeking large court-ordered settlements for poor treatment.
Democrats, thanks to heavy backing from lawyers, have not supported Republican efforts to limit such payments. Doctors — and Republican politicians — say the current system drives up costs through unneeded medical procedures ordered by physicians who fear being sued.
"I would be willing to ... consider any ideas out there that would actually work in terms of reducing costs, improving the quality of patient care," Obama said in the Sunday interview, which was taped Friday.
While he said he did not back limits on court-ordered rewards for malpractice, he said "there are a range of ideas that are out there, offered by doctors' organizations like the AMA (American Medical Association), that I think we can explore."
Gibbs spoke on CNN's "State of the Union." Snowe appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."