April 18, 2014

Landrieu, Pryor: Obama Failed to Change Health Care Dynamics

Two moderate Democratic Senators on Thursday said health care reform is on “life support,” with one of them — Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) — questioning President Barack Obama’s leadership on the issue.

Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), a centrist who played a key role in the health care negotiations late last year, said Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night failed to “fundamentally” change the climate and allow for passage of a final bill. The package has been idling since the GOP won the Massachusetts Senate special election last week and shattered the Democrats’ supermajority.

And Landrieu said Obama’s singling out of the Senate in Wednesday evening’s speech as the impediment to passing reform was unfair and off-base, saying she was hoping the president would have offered a specific path forward.

“I think the president should have been more clear about a way forward on health care last night. You know, he just can’t — I think he should have been more clear. I’m hoping that in the next week or two he will be. Because that’s what it’s going to take, if it’s at all possible to get this done,” Landrieu told reporters. “Mailing in general suggestions, sending them out of the transom, is not really going to work.”

Landrieu said Obama has shown a lack of appreciation for the political predicament of moderate Democrats from Republican-leaning states; she said the only reason the Democratic Conference is so large is because of moderates like her. Landrieu said she wants the president to press for legislation that is more bipartisan. No Republicans voted in favor of the Senate health care bill.

“Senate Democrats who give the Senate — moderate Senate Democrats who give the Senate the 60 votes come from states that have to appreciate a broad range of ideas,” Landrieu said. “And I think the president since he ran on a bipartisan, changing, working with Republicans, doesn’t do a great service to then say, ‘Everything the House Caucus passes without any Republican votes is then something the Senate should just take.’”

House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), are still pressing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to use reconciliation to pass a final bill.

But some moderate Democrats, including Pryor, have been reluctant to support reconciliation, fearing a voter backlash, particularly with independents. Pryor praised Obama’s desire not to “walk away from our challenges” as strong presidential leadership even as he appeared to accept the defeat of health care reform.

“I’ve always thought that there could be some break on health care at some point this year. But I don’t know what that is yet,” Pryor told reporters, adding that it is a “real possibility” that Congress will not send a health care bill to Obama’s desk this year. “I think it’s very possible that health care is at a stalemate, and you just can’t solve it this year.”

Landrieu agreed, saying that health care reform is “on life support, unfortunately. But it still has a pulse.”

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