In an interview on CNN's State of the Union, Rep. Keith Ellison laid down the battle lines for President Barack Obama, whose White House is wedged in the middle between conservative Senate Democrats and the conservative House Blue Dog Coalition and liberal House Democrats.
"Why should the liberals always cave?" Ellison said when confronted with the prospect that Obama might ask the liberal members of the party to compromise.
Asked what he would like for the president to say Wednesday in a joint address to Congress that will focus on health care, Ellison stuck to his guns.
"He could say, 'You know what, the public option is essential to reform.' He could say that a public option is the only thing that's going to hold insurance premiums down. . . . He could say that a public option with a large provider network is going to help promote better medical practices based on evidence. So, I'm hoping that he understands the essentiality of the public option."
Ellison rejected outright the idea of bringing a public health insurance option into the insurance market through a so-called "trigger" that would kick in years after passage of a health-care reform bill and only if the private insurance industry failed to meet certain benchmarks relating to coverage and cost.
Ellison said private insurers wielded substantial market power "in nearly every major metropolitan area" that gives companies the ability to set premiums at high rates.
"How are we going to get them down? By introducing three things: competition, choice and a competitive price. I don't know how any conservative can be against those three things," he said.
Ellison also said Sunday that non-profit co-ops, an idea under consideration in bipartisan negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee, also would not suffice in his view because they would not have large enough provider networks.
The Democrat also told King that co-ops should not be used out of an anti-government mindset.
"Let's stop this ideological commitment to bashing government," he said
Ellison also encouraged Obama to use reconciliation, a special Senate procedure relating to budgetary legislation, in order to get a bill passed with a bare majority - likely all Democrats - in the Senate.
Ellison's comments were directly at odds with remarks Sunday from two of his fellow congressional Democrats.
Also on State of the Union, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson suggested use of a triggering mechanism on the public health insurance option as a compromise, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar appeared open to the proposal but said she wanted to know more about the benchmarks that would be used to activate the trigger.
Both Democratic senators also told King that they favored a more bipartisan approach to health-care reform in their chamber that would garner the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster and both suggested that use of reconciliation would not be the best course of action.