WASHINGTON — After insisting for a year that failure was not an option, President Barack Obama is now acknowledging his health care overhaul may die in Congress.
His tone at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Thursday night verged at times on defeatist. Even while saying he still wanted to get the job done, Obama bowed to new political realities. Democrats no longer command a filibuster-proof Senate majority, and voters and lawmakers are far more concerned with jobs and the economy than with enacting sweeping and expensive changes to the health system.
"I think it's very important for us to have a methodical, open process over the next several weeks, and then let's go ahead and make a decision," Obama said Thursday night.
"And it may be that ... if Congress decides we're not going to do it, even after all the facts are laid out, all the options are clear, then the American people can make a judgment as to whether this Congress has done the right thing for them or not," the president said. "And that's how democracy works. There will be elections coming up and they'll be able to make a determination and register their concerns one way or the other during election time."
"Here's the key, is to not let the moment slip away," Obama also said.
Sweeping health legislation to extend medical coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans passed both chambers of Congress last year and was on the verge of completion before Republican Scott Brown's upset victory in a Massachusetts special U.S. Senate election last month. Brown was sworn in Thursday, giving Republicans 41 votes, enough to block the initiatives of the Democratic majority.
Now the health legislation hangs in limbo. Lawmakers are looking to Obama for guidance, but he has not publicly offered specifics. His signals have been mixed. At the DNC event he said Republicans should be part of the process — something they've shown little interest in and that would doubtlessly drag out a legislative effort that many rank-and-file Democrats want to end quickly.
"The next step is what I announced at the State of the Union, which is to call on our Republican friends to present their ideas. What I'd like to do is have a meeting whereby I'm sitting with the Republicans, sitting with the Democrats, sitting with health care experts, and let's just go through these bills. ... And then I think that we've got to go ahead and move forward on a vote," Obama said Thursday. "But as I said at the State of the Union, I think we should be very deliberate, take our time. We're going to be moving a jobs package forward over the next several weeks; that's the thing that's most urgent right now in the minds of Americans all across the country."