From NBC's Mark Murray and Athena Jones
In his first public comments on the so-called public option since the issue ignited a political firestorm over the weekend, President Obama today stressed in an interview with radio-talk host Michael Smerconish that the end he's seeking is keeping down health insurance costs.
And for him, a public option is simply a means -- perhaps one of several -- of achieving that end.
Obama told Smerconish that he believes the public/government option, which would compete against private health insurers, is a good idea. "The press got a little excited and some folks on the left got a little excited," he said in the interview that was broadcast from the White House. "Our position hasn't changed. We think that the key is cost control."
"That's the end that we're seeking. And the means -- we can have some good arguments about the best way to achieve it."
Also in his interview with Smerconish, which included questions from radio listeners across the country, Obama listed his principles for health-care reform:
-- that it must be entirely paid for;
-- that it must reduce health-care inflation over the long term;
-- that it institute protections for Americans who already have health insurance;
-- and that it sets up an exchange that would enable Americans to choose the type of health-care insurance they want, and that would help them afford the insurance.
In response to one listener's concerns about illegal immigrants benefiting from any kind of health-care reform, Obama responded, "That is simply not true," adding: "Nobody has talked about health insurance for illegal immigrants."
Another caller asked the president if he was willing to ditch working with seemingly uncooperative Republicans. "I would love to have more Republicans involved and engaged in this process," he replied. But he said that many Republicans have decided that defeating health-care reform would replicate what happened in 1994 -- a GOP takeover of Congress.
"But this shouldn't be a political issue," Obama added. "This is a issue for the American people. There are a bunch of Republicans out there who have been working very constructively. One of them, Olympia Snowe in Maine, she's been dedicated on this. Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, others -- they've been meeting in the Senate Finance Committee. I want to give them a chance to work through these processes."
He concluded, "And we're happy to make sensible compromises. What we're not willing to do is give up on" the core principles.
The president also touched on the release of the man convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, saying that the White House "didn't think this was appropriate."
"We're now in contact with the Libyan government, and want to make sure that if in fact this transfer has taken place, that he's not welcomed back in some way, but instead should be under house arrest."