Ambiguous prognoses have come from other pols and been dutifully reported in the press. In a piece the AP moved a day before Obama’s remarks at the Democrat’s fundraiser, Erica Werner noted that there was “greater skepticism among some rank-and-file Democrats,” and asked California congressmen Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa, moderates who supported the House bill, about the fate of health reform. They “burst out laughing,” Werner reported. “Those people [the ones circulating a letter in support of the public option] are delusional,” Cardoza said. But Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva told Werner “Don’t write the obituary yet.” Nancy Pelosi had the last word in Werner’s story. “We are on track to have comprehensive health care reform for our country…and there are several paths to that goal.”

If Grijalva wasn’t writing the obituary, Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius might have been. Way back in August, Sebelius said that the president could live without the public plan, and it turned out she was right. Last week, the secretary told the Senate Finance Committee: “I am not a principal in the negotiations. Nor is my staff.” What kind of administration would be negotiating major health reform bills without its Secretary for Health and Human Services in the thick of it?

Historical footnote: During the negotiations for Medicare, officials from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (as the agency was then called) were heavily involved, particularly Wilbur Cohen, who was once called The Man Who Built Medicare. Politico and the AP have done a jolly good job bringing to light the ambiguity (and absurdity) of this phase of reform.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.