President Barack Obamas vague exhortations during his State of the Union that Congress should not give up on health care reform received broad support from House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday night, but Members said he did not give them a clear path forward to break the current gridlock.
There still is the problem of the House trying to work it out with the Senate, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said. And nobody wants to blink. So thats a question of finger pointing, and in his speech, he said that doesnt work.
Though both chambers have passed comprehensive health care bills, the Democrats loss in last weeks Massachusetts special election scuttled their filibuster-proof Senate majority and sent the future of any health care reform conference report into doubt. Leaders in both the House and Senate have been exploring several ways to get around the near certain filibuster of the health care measure, but they have yet to settle on a path.
Obama told Members in his national address that he was not giving up on reform and neither should they, and he urged lawmakers in both parties to take another look at the plan weve proposed.
Members interpreted that statement very differently.
I think he said look its time to stop the gamesmanship and reach across the aisle and work together on this, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. Itll be very difficult to get things on a bipartisan basis but the American people are looking for that and I think they refuse to join together at their own peril.
Though Obama appeared to insist on comprehensive health care reform, several Senators said they sensed a flexibility when he told them: Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Obama appeared to say that hes in all the way but willing to be flexible and I think [he] laid down a challenge to Republicans that if they are serious about this, wheres their bill?
Moderate Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she felt Obama did not rule out passing health care reform in a piecemeal fashion something leaders have said would likely be too difficult to accomplish.
What I heard him say is we cant retreat, she said. He didnt say we have to do it all in one bill, he just said all of these parts have to be done.
Landrieu added that there is a less than 50-50 chance of health care being revived in this Congress.
And it was clear from many Members reactions that they were ready for a new narrative.
The message is, dont give up on health care. Right now were going to focus on the economy, jobs, helping the middle class. But, health care will be back, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said.
But just about every Democratic lawmaker agreed that they would not give up on the issue. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) praised Obamas push to get a meaningful bill.
He pointed that health care premiums continue to go up for American families and American businesses, and will bust the budget of the United States if we dont do something about it now. We cant sweep these problems under the rug. He didnt get elected by the American people to ignore problems that we face as a country.
Republicans, however, were dismissive of Obamas continued push to get a bill, believing the victory by Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) proved the public isnt happy with his health care reform plans.
I dont think he heard what the voters of Massachusetts were saying, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said.
David M. Drucker and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.