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WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders insist they will push ahead with efforts to overhaul health care. They just aren’t explaining how.
Obama acknowledges running into a “bit of a buzz saw” of opposition. A top Democrat suggests Congress slow down on health care, a sign of eroding political will in the wake of Republican upset in the Massachusetts Senate race Tuesday.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who got health legislation through the Senate’s health committee last year after the death of his friend, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said Obama and lawmakers could “maybe take a breather for a month, six weeks.”
Just a week ago, the legislation had appeared near passage after Obama threw himself into marathon negotiations with congressional leaders.
“There are things that have to get done. This is our best chance to do it. We can’t keep on putting this off,” Obama said Friday at a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio.
“I am not going to walk away just because it’s hard,” the president said.
Obama seemed to pull back from a suggestion he made Wednesday that lawmakers unite behind the elements of the legislation everyone can agree on. Obama said that approach presented problems because some of the popular ideas, such as new requirements on insurance companies, couldn’t be done without getting many more people insured.
“A lot of these insurance reforms are connected to some other things we have to do to make sure that everybody has some access to coverage,” he said. For example, insurers wouldn’t be able to end the practice of denying coverage to people with health conditions unless more people were covered. Otherwise people could wait until they got sick to buy insurance and premiums could skyrocket.
Obama has used immense political capital to advance the health care overhaul and remake a system that has frustrated past administrations, most recently Democrat Bill Clinton’s in 1994. Whether he can succeed where others have failed is now unclear.
“Here’s the good news. We’ve gotten pretty far down the road, but I have to admit, we had a little bit of a buzz saw this week,” the president said.
“I understand that, why after the Massachusetts election people in Washington were all in a tizzy, trying to figure out what this means for health reform, Republicans and Democrats: What does it mean for Obama? Is he weakened? Is he, oh, how’s he going to survive this?” Obama said. “But I want you to understand, this is not about me. This is about you.”
Despite Dodd’s comments, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., insist the health care legislation will go forward. They just haven’t said how.
One potential approach could allow the Senate to act with a simple majority instead of the 60-vote total Democrats now lack with the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
House Republican leader John Boehner said Brown’s victory has sent a loud warning to Democrats.
“For the better part of those nine months, Democrats in Washington have been focused on this government takeover of health care that working families just can’t afford and want nothing to do with,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said in his party’s radio and Internet address Saturday.
On the Net:
GOP address: http://www.youtube.com/johnboehner