WASHINGTON (CNN) – CNN has learned that the White House is quietly talking about drafting formal health care legislation after allowing Congress to work on its own for months.
Multiple sources close to the process told CNN Friday that while the plan is uncertain, they are preparing for the possibility they could deliver their own legislation to Capitol Hill sometime after the President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday, with one source calling the possibility of new legislation a "contingency" approach if efforts by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to craft a deal fall through.
The White House emphasized Friday that no formal bill has yet been written. "The President has been reviewing all of the various legislative proposals, but no decision has been made about whether formal legislation will be presented," said Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.
Multiple sources told CNN earlier in the day the thinking among administration officials was that the president will lay out a path to reform in his speech next week that the White House hopes can bridge the various differences in the competing proposals. Sources expect the president to emphasize the message: If Congress passes something now, it will serve as a foundation to pass further reform in the future.
As previously reported, the so-called trigger option remains very much on the table.
Under a 'trigger option', a new government-run health care plan would only go into effect if insurance companies fail to meet certain affordability standards with their own plans.
A source close to the White House says the administration is leaning toward dropping the public option, and continues to zero in on trying to convince Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe – who has long pushed for a trigger option - to come on board.
The source says the bill that would be presented to Snowe would leave out a public option but include a trigger provision that could lead to the introduction of a new government-run insurance plan under certain circumstances. The legislation would cover most, though not all, of the 46 million uninsured Americans. It would also include popular insurance reforms, such as ending the insurance industry practice of using pre-existing conditions to deny coverage.
This Democratic source also says that if the deal comes together, the key will be to successfully address the pushback from disaffected liberal legislators and congressional leaders.
As Obama prepares to go before Congress and lay out more details about his stance on health reform, he held a conference call Friday with some of the most liberal members of the House, who say they won't vote for a bill without a government run insurance option.
Two congresswomen on the call, which took place Friday afternoon, tell CNN that the president probed them about how entrenched they are, even asking them to define what they mean when they call for a "robust" public option.
"I think he would like to convince us that there is something sort of that could lead to a public option that would satisfy us, and guess what? It doesn't," Rep. Lynne Woolsey, D-California, told CNN in a telephone interview after the conference call.
Both Woolsey and Rep Barbara Lee, D-California, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN that they told the president point blank that they do not believe a health care proposal without a government run option is real reform.
"All of our caucuses are very unified about a robust public option, and that is essential in healthcare reform efforts," Lee told CNN in a separate phone interview after the conference call.
A Democratic source close to the process told CNN Friday that the White House was very conscious of the potential congressional fallout: "How do you (get the deal passed) without a revolt in the House? It can be done, but very delicately."
The bottom line, said the source, is that the president would have to "move to the center" on the issue eventually, "and it's not a bad thing to have liberals screaming at him" - that development will help sell the deal to Americans, "convince them it's a good, moderate deal, if liberals are mad."
Woolsey and Lee said Friday the president invited them to the White House to continue the discussion on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, before his speech to Congress.
– CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report.
(Updated Friday 7:30 pm with White House comment)