Feb. 8, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Health Debate Flatlines

Democrats Seek to Revive Effort

Democratic leaders in Congress insist they will pass a health care reform bill. They just have no idea how or when they will do it.

“It’s unclear at this point,” Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) said Friday. “There’s an assessment going on of what is possible and the assessment is not complete, and it’s not quite clear what is possible at this point in terms of the road forward.”

After last week’s disastrous defeat in Massachusetts shattered their 60-vote Senate supermajority, Democrats floundered and appeared trapped between two political realities. If they don’t pass a reform bill, they will have failed a key test of their ability to govern and face a dispirited base and potentially catastrophic losses in November. But Members also fear that moving too quickly or aggressively will turn off independents and likewise lead to an electoral drubbing.

After seeing the seat of the revered late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) snatched away by Republican upstart Scott Brown on Tuesday, Senate Democratic leaders tried to strike a balance between giving the rank and file time to digest the Massachusetts special election results while not waiting so long as to make it impossible to salvage their health care efforts.

“A lot of people made clear that in light of the election results on Tuesday, they didn’t want to rush into anything,” one Senate Democratic leadership aide said. “We’re going to continue to discuss the next steps and strategy with the House and the White House.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) indicated Friday that leaders were prepared to hunker down this week to come up with a possible solution.

“The political trauma of Tuesday is still fresh. We’re trying to think through what the next steps are,” Durbin said. “By next week, I think we can come up with a preferred path.”

But Senators and aides indicated that the onus is on President Barack Obama to referee any negotiations between the House and Senate.

“Clearly he’s got to be a part of it, and obviously, as only a president can do, he has the ability to bring us all together,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a key health care negotiator. “That’s what presidents do.”

“The only way we’re going to get this done quickly is with the continued active support and involvement of the president,” the Senate Democratic leadership aide said. “Whatever needs to be done, it needs to be done quickly.”

Obama appeared to stumble in the first part of the week by sending conflicting messages about what he wanted to do on health care, but by Friday, Obama stumped in Ohio for both health care reform and economic recovery.

“I’m not going to walk away just because it’s hard,” Obama said. “We are going to keep on working to get this done — with Democrats, I hope with Republicans — anybody who’s willing to step up. Because I’m not going to watch more people get crushed by costs or denied care they need by insurance company bureaucrats.”

But without clear guidance from the White House, various House Democrats have been floating lots of trial balloons for saving at least a portion of their health care package.

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