UPDATE: Congressional Democrats, with the apparent blessing of President Barack Obama, are looking at pushing through a scaled-down version of the health reform bills that they think may pass Congress in the wake of their loss of a filibuster-proof supermajority, news reports say.
The Associated Press reports:
A simpler, less ambitious bill emerged as an alternative only hours after the loss of the party’s crucial 60th Senate seat forced the Democrats to slow their all-out drive to pass Obama’s signature legislation despite fierce Republican opposition. The White House is still hoping the House can pass the Senate bill in a quick strike, but Democrats are now considering other options.
Politico reports that President Barack Obama is “calling for a quick consensus behind popular elements of the reform plan,” but adds that the White House “hasn’t gravitated fully to the stripped-down bill as the only path to saving reform.”
The White House’s stripped-down plan would include provisions such as tighter insurance regulations and moderate coverage expansions, according to Democratic officials. But it would amount to a major retreat from Obama’s initial vision of near-universal coverage….
Original story follows below
WASHINGTON — In a stunning interview given to ABC News to be broadcast Thursday night, President Barack Obama all but conceded his signature legislative issue.
“Here’s one thing I know and I just want to make sure that this is off the table: The Senate certainly shouldn’t try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated,” Obama told the network, according to a partial transcript. “The people of Massachusetts spoke. He’s got to be part of that process.”
Waiting for Brown will all but doom the Democrats’ health care package. Brown would be the 41st Republican vote in the Senate, ensuring the opposition party has enough votes to mount a filibuster.
“Here’s my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country: the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office,” the president added. “People are angry, they are frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.”
“I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements in the package that people agree on,” he said.
The president reiterated the principles behind his pursuit of reform in the interview.
“We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people,” he said. “We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don’t, then our budgets are going to blow up and we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance to their families. Those are the core, some of the core elements of, to this bill.”
Obama also discussed some regrets from his first year in office.
“If there’s one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values,” he said.
“What [people]’ve ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where, you know, there’s these technocrats up here, these folks who are making decisions,” he added. “Maybe some of them are good, maybe some of them aren’t. But do they really get us and what we’re going through?”
He pledged to make a more concerted effort to communicate and connect with the American people henceforth.
“And I think that I can do a better job of that and partly because I do believe that we’re in a stronger position now than we were in a year ago.”
Brown’s election has brought about a major rift between Senate and House Democrats, neither of which agree about how to proceed on health care.
The simplest path for Democrats to enact the legislation now is to have the House of Representatives approve the bill that the Senate passed last month, as GOP Senator-elect Scott Brown intends to deny them the final vote they need for cloture.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on Wednesday the Senate will not take any major action on health reform before Brown assumes office, according to Reuters.
Senate Democrats are telling their House colleagues to accept their bill, because it won’t survive another vote in the Senate.
“I think at this point, given the new senator from Massachusetts’ position, I think that that would be tough to do,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) told Talking Points Memo‘s Brian Beutler.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) agreed that health reform now rests in the House’s hands. “I think so,” she said.
So far there appears to be no serious discussions in among the Democratic leadership about using budget reconciliation, a process that would allow the bill the upper chamber to pass with a 51 votes.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who suggested reconciliation as an option for health care just months ago, did not immediately respond to a question by Raw Story regarding whether it’s being considered.
Making matters more complicated is that several House Democrats don’t appear to believe the Senate bill has the votes to pass the House.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) have both signaled that the House will turn it down. Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) office confirmed to Raw Story on Wednesday he will not vote for the Senate bill.
More details of Obama’s interview can be read here.
— John Byrne contributed to this report