January 20th, 2010
02:14 PM ET
8 years ago

Democrats scramble on health care after GOP win

Democrats in Washington lost their 60-seat supermajority in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

Democrats in Washington lost their 60-seat supermajority in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

Washington (CNN) - Nervous Democrats debated Wednesday how to save a health care reform plan suddenly pushed to the brink of defeat by an upset GOP Senate win in Massachusetts.

Senator-elect Scott Brown's victory in one of the most progressive states in the nation raised already-high anxiety levels among Democrats looking ahead to midterm elections. It also stripped Democrats of their 60-seat Senate supermajority, giving Republicans enough votes to block any measure in the chamber.

Administration officials and top congressional Democrats are reviewing a diminished range of options to pass a health care bill and salvage victory on President Barack Obama's top domestic priority.

"I think most of us have tried to weigh what happened in Massachusetts and feel that perhaps we need a little breathing space here to reflect on it, and to chart a course," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate. "We haven't decided on a strategy."

Among the options under consideration is having the House pass an identical version of the bill approved by the Senate in December. Doing so would allow the measure to proceed straight to Obama's desk to be signed into law.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday it "remains to be seen" whether there's enough support in the House for such a course of action.

"There's a lot of good things in the Senate bill," she said. "As you know, 85 percent of the bills are the same."

Pelosi argued "the message from Massachusetts" was that voters are angry about special state-specific provisions added to the Senate bill in order to win over wavering Democrats. She specifically cited a provision exempting Nebraska from the costs of expanded Medicaid coverage - a provision critics have labeled "the Cornhusker kickback."

"Some of those issues are lightning-rod issues and some of that has to be changed," Pelosi said. "I don't think our members should be asked to support something that even Sen. (Ben) Nelson" - the Nebraska Democrat who initially pushed for the provision - "has backed away from."

A number of House liberals, however, are pushing back hard against the idea of adopting the Senate plan without major changes. The more conservative Senate measure contains a number of provisions unpopular with progressives, including a 40 percent tax on insurance companies providing high-end "Cadillac" health plans.

"If it comes down to that Senate bill or nothing, I think we're going to end up with nothing," Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Massachusetts, said Tuesday. "I don't hear a lot of support on our side."

Several other Democrats echoed Lynch's concerns, telling CNN that even if there was a firm commitment to follow approval of the Senate version with a second bill containing changes negotiated by House and Senate leaders and the White House, they wouldn't vote yes.

"I don't think I can vote for the Senate bill and I don't think there are the votes in the House for the Senate bill," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York.

Weiner ridiculed the House Democratic leadership for briefing members Tuesday night on the status of White House negotiations that began before Brown's election.

"We have to recognize we are in an entirely different scenario," he said. "We should internalize that we are not doing things entirely correct here."

A second option under consideration is to draft a new, stripped-down version of the bill capable of passing both chambers.

Such a bill, according to several rank-and-file Democrats, would focus on less controversial provisions, such as barring discrimination by insurers based on pre-existing conditions and closing the Medicare "doughnut hole" to bring down prescription drug costs.

"There are great concerns about the health insurance system and the kind of power that the insurance people have over people to deny care, to raise rates and so on," White House strategist David Axelrod told CNN Wednesday. Obama is "not going to walk away from that."

A third option - trying to ram a compromise bill through the House and Senate before Brown is seated - appears to be losing favor among Democrats. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, released a statement Tuesday night arguing that it would "only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated."

A fourth option is to revisit the idea of trying to push health care through the Senate with only 51 votes - a simple majority.

But to do that Democrats would have to use a process known as reconciliation, which presents technical and procedural issues that would delay the process for a long time, and Democrats are eager to put the health care debate behind them and move on to economic issues, such as job creation, as soon as possible in this election year.

"If there's anybody in this building that doesn't tell you they're more worried about elections today, you should absolutely slam them," Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said Wednesday. "That's what this place thrives on."

Newly empowered Republican leaders on Wednesday urged Democrats to scrap the current version of the bill completely and restart negotiations.

People are "more interested in shrinking unemployment than expanding government," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "They don't want the government taking over health care. ... They made that abundantly clear last night in the commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Congress needs to "stop this unsavory sausage-making process known as health care reform," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. "The people of Massachusetts have spoken for the rest of America."

–CNN's Ted Barrett, Dana Bash, Evan Glass, Suzanne Malveaux, Alan Silverleib and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report

Filed under: Congress • Democrats • Health care
soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Enough

    Don't they get it? The message was loud and clear...........we don't want this bill, that's what the vote was about, killing the bill. Democrats who want to serve another term should wake up and listen.........quit trying to shove this crap through. If the arrogance of Obama, Reid and Pelosi can't figure this out, we will just have to vote them out too. We'll start with Reid, he's done!

    January 20, 2010 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  2. Jason

    "The people of Massachusetts have spoken for the rest of America."

    Oh, they have? Thanks for clearing that up, John. I guess now we don't have to listen to what 300 million other people think. So glad you're not president.

    January 20, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  3. shan

    Nothing is going to get done for the next three years now. This Us vs. Them has got to stop!

    January 20, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  4. Obama Victim

    give it up...nice try, but you lose

    January 20, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  5. charlie

    Democrats need to get some spine. There is too much at stake, even beyond healthcare, to allow the loss of this one Senate seat to derail the agenda the American people voted overwhelmingly for just one year ago. You don't think if the situation were reversed that Republicans wouldn't use every parliamentary tactic in the book to push their legislation through? It's time for no more Mr. Nice Guy and to play hardball with these obstructionist knot heads who only want to make sure Obama fails. Whatever it takes, let's get it done. Who knows when we will have another chance?

    January 20, 2010 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  6. Travis

    Maybe now that Republicans are a threat they can have bipartisan talks including Tort reform, shopping for insurance over state lines. Pelosi and Reid can go home to and send a replacement that listens to its constituents. This socialism regime is coming to an end.

    January 20, 2010 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  7. MattMan

    If you have had any doubt which party is the most dishonest and dividing.

    You no longer need to look any further than the behavior of the democrats over the past several years.

    January 20, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  8. votenow&moveon

    that's why all of the democrats, i'm one, are going to lose – NO BACKBONE – .

    i hate most republican policies but respect their ability (moderate & concervative) to stick together no matter what.

    January 20, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  9. John

    Dear Speaker Pelosi,

    you obviously don't get it..... if you stiff-arm a health care bill through without Brown voting on it... you have killed the democrats in November.....

    somebody please slap this woman across the face to wake her up...

    January 20, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  10. Bryan

    What a hysterical country in which we live. How can, as Sen. McCain allege, "the people of Massachusetts [speak] for the rest of America?" I don't know about anybody else, but I sure haven't forgotten that the obstructionist Party of No bogs down the rest of government while funneling millions into special elections–my guess is they hope the national coverage will make them appear larger than they actually are. Which explains all the hot air.

    I have a few points:

    First, Michael Steele probably has no idea what the newly minted Sen Brown stands for; nor does anybody outside his immediate family. I guess the GOP only cares about experience when the candidate doesn't have an "R" attached to their name. Way to go, Watchers of Consistency ("It's not flipflopping or waffling when we do it, guys"). If Brown wants to define his political legacy, he can't categorically side with Republicans any more than the Democratic Blue or Yellow Dogs can side with the President's agenda.

    Second, if this election singlehandedly derails the White House, then all hell is likely to break loose. Republicans are going to have to find a way to actually work with the majority, and no longer be dead weight.

    Last, and back to the hysterical point: anybody else question how we can move back and forth so feverishly:
    2002 midterms: landslide for the GOP.
    2004: Bush earns about 4M more votes than he did in 2000.
    2006 midterms: Democrats whup GOP.
    2008: Obama earns first dem candidate a convincing electoral win in 40+ years.
    2009 – 2010: people already calling for the President to resign, declare him a "lame duck," etc.

    I mention this because the only consistency seems to be the sheer amount of money thrown at these things, and nobody can be appeased. Over 400M spent during the federal elections, more than $10M spent on Brown's campaign, etc.

    Not sure what victory we're really celebrating.

    January 20, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  11. Mississippi Mrs.

    Get some good common sense COST control ideas on the table.

    Try this for a strategy... Appoint a bi-partisan committee to draft a solid foundation. Keep the bipartisanship alive and you will be surprised how quickly the American people will forgive your pushiness of the past. We remember that you wanted to pass this mess before the August recess without it ever having even been read.

    Bipartissanship will turn everything around.

    January 20, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  12. liberal wingnut

    This bill is a joke. No taxes for unions now? come on it was those Cadillac plans thank bankrupted GM in the first place.

    January 20, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  13. File under "Sarcasm"

    Win at any cost. The end justifies the means. Either of those two extremist phrases sound familiar?

    When all else fails the arrogant Democrats will disregard the voter's desires and hide their heads in the sand believing they can still "win" if they pass something called healthcare reform no matter how terrible the bill and how big the bribes. Brown stated up front that he was a vote to stop the healthcare reform bills now in Congress and the left is trying to spin that into "Trust us, you really do want it and you just don't understand it.. You're still just mad at Bush and the Republicans and expressed it by rejecting Corzine, Deeds and Coakley."

    January 20, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  14. John D.

    You want to know what to do? Dump the current bill and work together with Republicans and come up with something that amounts to more than a Government takeover of Healthcare. Out in the open, on C-Span. A deals have now expired and no more funny business. No other pork attached to or hidden in a 2000+ page roll of toilet paper.

    Keep the the bill to 50 pages or less and then explain it and sell it to the people before you vote. And by the way, it had better be something you can live with because you too will be in any plan you come up with!

    Tell Obama to stop spending money on the new panels and Czars he has sneakily started to put in place behind the backs of the People!

    January 20, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  15. Steve (the real one)

    The American people already asked that this be slowed down, done right, and that we know what is going on. The dems have done neither of the three. Loaded with special deals and payoffs, secret handshake with the unions, and no CSPAN! Even with 60 votes, you could not accomplish this. Why? Some Dems know the trash in this bill and are no longer willing to act as sacrifical lambs! They want to be re-elected and they have to face the people in the states they represent! As Sen. Webb said, you would be smart to hold off until Sen (elect) Brown takes his seat. If not, expect more like last night to come in November! The people have spoken. The question is, is DC listening?

    January 20, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  16. tmart

    If anybody can with a straight face, after watching the nasty sour faces of McConnell and Boehner in every single tv appearance or photograph or interview on the internet since President Obama was elected, and tell me that those two had any desire whatsoever from the very beginning to work with the Democratic Congress and the President on ANY issue of significance, then I will tell you that you are a fool. Just like fat-face, shameful Limbaugh, they WANT the Democrats to fail. They WANT Obama to fail. Independents are foolish to think that the Republican leadership have ever had any desire to work shoulder to shoulder with Democrats. They are fooling themselves.

    January 20, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  17. Steph

    So some of you think our health care system is just fine the way it is. I hope you enjoy premiums that continue to rise 10 – 50% each year. You must not have any fear of losing your job, hence losing your insurance coverage. I also hope no one in your family becomes ill in the future. Your beloved insurance company will drop you without a thought about your well-being. No other insurance company will take you beYup, that's the American you want...so sad....

    January 20, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  18. REG in AZ

    The Mass. voters, while hoping to prompt some positive action, actually sent mixed messages: one being, that they are really dissatisfied with the Democrats current focus on their own priorities; and two, that they encourage the Republicans to continue obnoxiously faulting and irresponsibly blocking/obstructing everything. What that could accomplish simply remains to be seen. The Republicans have clearly shown that they are stubbornly and totally unified with their concentration being totally on their own political interests: as they deceptively say anything to appeal to people’s fears, biases and prejudices intending just to manipulate public opinion; as they concentrate on satisfying only Special Interests and the influential, powerful and wealthy few who strongly support them; and as they take the majority for granted offering them only apathy, the costs and an abundance of subterfuge to rationalize. We already know where that takes us as we are literally there and ‘more of the same’ just isn’t a satisfactory answer. I guess we can just hope one side or the other will change their ways and become honestly and conscientiously truly concerned for the people. Good luck!

    January 20, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  19. ToughLove

    The PEOPLE have spoken! Take THAT, you liberal elitists!! Take THAT, you turn-coat Republicans!! Conservative values still reign...Democrats better learn them and Republicans better keep them or they'll all get fired!!!
    And the President can't turn quickly enough since he's SOOOO liberal..therefore, he'll be out after one term.

    January 20, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  20. Monster Zero

    Libtards, the writing is on the wall, America has spoken, pack your bags, 2010 is here!

    January 20, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  21. J. Rochester, NY

    Looks like the Republicans are going to have to come up with Alternatives instead of just whining, complaining and obstructing the legislative process.

    January 20, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  22. Steve the Soothsayer

    Everyone would like to see relief for those without insurance and who have pre-existing conditions. We all would also like to prevent insurers from dropping sick people from coverage. These are difficult tasks to accomplish without raising costs substantially. The feeble efforts put forth by congress thus far have the potential of creating a nightmare scenario of runaway costs, watered-down coverage and physician shortages. If ever a non-partisan commission was called for , this is such a case. Such a commission must include Doctors (recently retired would be best) Insurers, Financial experts, actuaries, Business leaders and consumer groups.

    January 20, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  23. Tiffany

    You should have done this back in November. You can thank Mary Landrieu and her gang for this!!!!

    January 20, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  24. John

    The lesson of this Tuesday's election in Massachusetts is that the insured would rather let the uninsured die than pay a single penny more in taxes or in premiums. They also would just as soon let the insurance companies drop the sick and refuse to cover those with pre-existing conditions (both of these practices are permitted under the Republican health-care plan from this fall). If you are well, the people have just said in no uncertain terms that it is your right to kick the sick to the curb. The self-righteous whining of the well about their pocketbooks outweighs anything that happens to the sick.

    January 20, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  25. Dodd Democrat...

    We need to THROW it OUT and start all over!!!!

    January 20, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
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