WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama suggested he's open to Congress passing a scaled-back health-care bill, potentially sacrificing much of his signature policy initiative as chaos engulfed Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Top Democrats said they would press ahead despite growing doubts among rank-and-file members that they can pass a bill they've been laboring over for nearly a year. A host of ideas offered in recent days have lost favor.
One day after losing their filibuster-proof Senate majority in a Massachusetts special election, exhausted Senate Democrats looked downtrodden as they filed into their weekly lunch in a second-floor room at the Capitol. "People are hysterical right now," said one Senate aide.
Party members clashed openly over what to do next. Sen. Max Baucus, a top Senate Democrat, appeared to throw cold water on a bill that would focus only on stiffer insurance regulations. Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, scotched another idea, a complicated parliamentary maneuver to usher a bill quickly to the president's desk.
In an interview with ABC News, President Obama said he would be open to scaling back the legislation in order to salvage it. "I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements in the package that people agree on," Obama said. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said later the president would prefer Congress to pass the comprehensive package, and hasn't given up on that option.
A pared-down bill could still restrict insurance companies from denying care and overcharging customers, but would likely jettison a mandate requiring everyone buy insurance. That provision opened Democrats to charges that they were unreasonably expanding the scope of government.