President Obama on Friday pledged not to "walk away" from health care reform, telling a crowd in the Cleveland suburbs that he's still committed to driving down health care costs despite the crippling effect his party's loss in the Massachusetts Senate election had on the Democrats' bill.
The president, who with party leaders has urged Congress to take a step back on health care reform, downplayed the drama and confusion that has dominated Capitol Hill since Republican Scott Brown's upset win in Massachusetts. He aggressively defended the work his administration has done so far on the economy, urged Congress to pass a new jobs bill and tried to link health care reform to that issue.
"Health care is part of the drag on our economy," Obama said at a town hall event. "We've gotten pretty far down the road but I've got to admit, we hit a little bit of a buzz saw this week."
Brown's win broke the Democrats' 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, imperiling the current version of the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared Thursday that her chamber did not have the votes to pass the Senate bill in its current form, meaning a revised version would have to be sent back to the Senate.
"This is just what happens in Congress. It's just an ugly process," Obama told the crowd in Ohio. "And the longer it takes, the uglier it looks. ... And I'm not going to walk away just because it's hard. We are going to keep on working to get this done with Democrats -- I hope with Republicans."
He added: "I will take my lumps but I won't stop fighting to bring back jobs here."
The Massachusetts GOP victory was taken by many in Washington as a sign that Americans are not happy with the direction health care reform is going. A new Gallup poll out Friday showed that 55 percent of Americans want Washington to suspend work on the bill and consider alternatives. Just 39 percent said Congress should finish work on the Democrats' bill.
Obama also urged Congress on Friday to enact a new jobs-creation bill and demanded that it include tax breaks for small business hiring and for Americans who make their homes more energy efficient. The visit to Ohio was a test of an aggressive populist push on jobs, a top worry for voters. The White House is shifting its message to emphasize the economy heading into November elections, which are expected to be difficult for Democrats.
Neither of the Obama-backed proposals was included in jobs legislation passed by the House of Representatives in December. That $174 billion stimulus package is now before the Senate, where it faces a tougher road, in part because it is financed with deficit spending.
Obama strongly defended unpopular administration actions taken to bail out banks and insurers and rescue automakers from collapse. Such measures have fueled anger across the country about growing government intervention and ballooning deficits to help Wall Street while many throughout the country remain jobless and struggling.
He said that propping up the financial industry was as much about regular Americans as wealthy bankers. "If the financial system had gone down, it would have taken the entire economy and millions more families and businesses with it," Obama said.
Similarly, allowing General Motors and Chrysler to go under might have satisfied calls to force businesses to reap the consequences of bad decisions. But, Obama said, "hundreds of thousands of Americans would have been hurt, not just at those companies themselves, but at other auto companies and at their suppliers and dealers, here in Ohio, up in Michigan, and all across this country."
Further seeking to connect with an anti-establishment bent in the electorate, Obama made sure to criticize Washington, too. He said a person can get a "pretty warped view of things" from inside the capital city, criticizing special interest power and emphasizing repeatedly that he badly wanted to escape the confining nature of the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.