House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly are considering a new list of changes to the Senate health care reform bill that could be passed separately as a way to advance the suddenly stalled overhaul of the health care system.
If such changes are passed in a separate piece of legislation, it could make the current Senate health care bill acceptable to enough liberal House members to pass it, allowing Democrats to achieve their goal of sweeping health care reform, Politico reported.
But the move also could spark resentment toward the party for pushing through the same health plan that some have argued voters in Massachusetts rejected in the closely watched election of Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown, who had pledged to block the Senate bill.
The House and Senate already have passed separate versions of President Obama's reform package, but the differences would need to be reconciled and voted on again for joint legislation to become law. Brown's victory cost Senate Democrats the 60-vote majority needed to approve changes, and Pelosi said Thursday she did not have the votes in the House to pass the Senate bill as is.
Neither Reid nor Pelosi know if their members will support the separate legislation strategy, but Pelosi plans to present the list of changes to her caucus next week, sources told Politico.
Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who got health legislation through the Senate's health committee last year after the death of his friend, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said Obama and lawmakers could "maybe take a breather for a month, six weeks."
Despite Dodd's comments, both Pelosi and Reid insist the health care legislation will go forward but haven't publicly said how.
House Republican leader John Boehner said Brown's victory has sent a loud warning to Democrats.
"For the better part of those nine months, Democrats in Washington have been focused on this government takeover of health care that working families just can't afford and want nothing to do with," Boehner said in his party's radio and Internet address Saturday.
Just a week ago the health legislation had appeared on the cusp of passage after Obama threw himself into marathon negotiations with congressional leaders to work out differences between the separate health care reform bills passed by the House and Senate.
"There are things that have to get done. This is our best chance to do it. We can't keep on putting this off," Obama said Friday at a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio. "I am not going to walk away just because it's hard."
Obama seemed to pull back from a suggestion he made Wednesday that lawmakers unite behind the elements of the legislation everyone can agree on. Obama said that approach presented problems because some of the popular ideas, such as new requirements on insurance companies, couldn't be done without getting many more people insured.
Obama put fixing a broken health care system at the top of his agenda in the 2008 campaign for the presidency, and once elected made it the top priority of his first term. He has faced solid opposition from the Republican minority, which has rolled over into his fellow Democrats in Congress and to growing numbers of voters.
Despite assurances from Obama and his administration, opposition to his plans have grown among people who bought into allegations of higher taxes, unbearable government deficits and serious government meddling in health care.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley told Politico that no decisions have been made but the office is "confident" they will pass health reform legislation this year.
"We are working with the White House and the House to identify our options for doing so. We anticipate further conversations with the administration, the House and our caucus," he said.
Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami had a similar response.
"Discussions are ongoing and options are being examined on the best way to move ahead on health insurance reform, but no final decisions have been made," Elshami told Politico. "It is premature to conclude anything except that staff is continuing to work on various options."