Democrats Debate Next Steps On Health Reform, Obama: 'America Can't Afford To Wait'

Health care is a major topic at the Democrats' winter meeting in a very snowy Washington D.C.

The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama on Saturday sought to assure despondent Democrats he would not abandon his commitment to overhauling health care and would work to counter GOP challenges to their congressional dominance. ... 'Let me be clear: I am not going to walk away from health reform,' Obama said, bringing the audience in the hotel ballroom to their feet."

"DNC chairman Tim Kaine, the former Democratic governor of Virginia who saw a Republican follow him into office, said they should not be downtrodden. 'The ghost of Harry Truman would kill us if he heard us complaining about having only 59 Democratic senators,' Kaine said"  (Elliott, 2/6).

The New York Times reports that Obama said "that the Democratic Party should not simply 'regroup, lick our wounds and try to hang on' during a challenging political season, pledging to press forward this year to deliver results on health care and job-creation measures. ... He did not rule out scaling back the scope of the legislation in hopes of drawing more support for a health care plan" (Zeleny, 2/6).

CBS News has a transcript of the president's remarks: "But here's the thing, Democrats - if we walk away, we know what will happen. We know that premiums and out-of-pocket expenses will skyrocket this decade and the decade after that and a decade after that just as they did in the past decade. More small businesses will be priced out of coverage. More big businesses will be unable to compete internationally. More workers will take home less pay and fewer raises. We know that millions more Americans will lose their coverage. We know that our deficits will inexorably continue to grow because health care costs are the single biggest driver." (2/6).

BusinessWeek/Bloomberg: "'We knew this stuff was tough,' Obama said. 'But we decided we were going to take the responsibility of changing it.' In response to Obama’s comments, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell warned the president against pushing ahead on health-care overhaul unless he commits to working with Republicans. 'This particular bill deserves to be stopped. What we need to do is to start over, and get it right,' the Kentucky Republican said" (Goldman, 2/6).

CQ Politics:  "As in the State of the Union address, however, he did not lay out any parameters for how the party should advance the overhaul legislation now that it has lost its filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. 'We are moving forward,' Obama promised. 'Sometimes we may be moving forward against the prevailing winds, sometimes it may be against a blizzard, but we are going to live up to our responsibility to lead'" (Cadei, 2/6).

In stories published before this morning's meeting, several news organizations noted that the Democrats are not unified behind a single legislative strategy.

Politico: "Since Democrats lost the Massachusetts Senate race, Obama or his top advisers have suggested all of the following: breaking the bill into smaller parts, keeping it together in one comprehensive package, putting it at the back of legislative line and needing to 'punch it through' Congress, as Obama himself said Tuesday."

Politico reports that at a fundraiser Thursday, "Obama seemed to acknowledge for the first time that Congress may well decide to scrap health care altogether – an admission that blunted his repeated and emphatic vows to finish the job" (Budoff Brown, 2/6).

CQ HealthBeat: "The [health] bill made no evident progress last week, in spite of assurances by some senior Democrats that they would move quickly to decide how to finish the measure. Perhaps the only viable plan — a two-step strategy that entails the use of budget reconciliation to avoid a Senate filibuster and amend a Senate-passed bill (HR 3590) — is being viewed with increasing skepticism" (Wayne, 2/5)

The Washington Post: "Speaking to DNC members on Friday, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi was adamant that the current effort remain on track. 'I have seen grown men cry over this health-care issue,' she said. 'We must pass this reform. The status quo is totally unsustainable.' But aides involved in the [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid-Pelosi effort said numerous procedural problems remain unresolved. They said Reid is worried that Senate rules would allow Republicans to offer unlimited amendments to the revisions package, potentially tying up the floor for weeks" (Murray, 2/6).







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