January 20th, 2010
02:14 PM ET
5 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. mavcal

    What's the rush with this health care reform? It's to make Obama look good and get re-elected – that's all. They need to junk the whole thing. People are finally waking up to the realization that we have a narcissist in the White House.

    January 20, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  2. Al

    I do not understand how congress and this president can attempt to move a bill through which is clearly going to hurt seniors (many of whom are on fixed incomes). Eliminating medicare advantage plans(10million covered nationwide) which cost seniors anywhere from 0-$170 per month depending on the carriers options and where in the country you reside and then forcing them to buy more costly supplemental plans and part D plans is clearly a major cost increase to seniors. Also, Dr's oppose the reduction in medicare payments, hospitals can not survive with lower medicare payments. Who is pushing this ? The AMA (which represents less tha 20% of all Drs) and AARP which benefits from every supplement they write.

    January 20, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  3. Joel Parkes

    So it's a Democratic President, A Democratic majority in both houses and that's not enough to push through Democratic legislation? I just don't get it. Why don't you let the GOP filibuster and show Americans with their 'arguments' why they should be ignored. Let them filibuster all they want. Let them be what they have always been; obstructionists when they don't have their way. Maybe then America will finally put this silly party to bed once and for all.

    January 20, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  4. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    I wouldn't worry as the Democrats still have control over both Houses. If this health care does not pass due to GOP intercession, then all you have to do is play the same game the GOP would if the show were on the other foot – point out the fact that the opposition prevented the bill from passing and don't stop telling people that until the next election is over. You keep pounding away at it, and if that isn't being effective enough, resort to the typical GOP-tactic of the day – lie about it and the opponents, going so far as to accuse them of not being born in the country and being child molesters and aduterers, until the voting public, which is dumbed-down beyond belief on the right in this country, gets it.

    In other words, fight fire with fire and more fire and more fire!!!

    January 20, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  5. Walter

    The House needs to pass the Senate bill now and return to fix the problems with it later, perhaps using reconciliation to get amendments to the plan through the Senate.

    We're closer than we have ever been. House liberals can't screw it up now!

    January 20, 2010 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  6. deb0155

    The Democrats should have been "weighing in" as to what was going on all year with the "tea parties." Instead of looking at what they were doing wrong – the Democrats have only been blaming Bush. The arrogance of this party is amazing to me. Finally, WE Americans have smartened up and KUDOS to the State of Massachusetts for speaking on behalf of the American people. It took sheer guts for those people to put a Republican in the Senate.

    THANK YOU MASSACHUSETTS!

    January 20, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  7. ck

    Democrats.... CAN YOU HEAR US NOW?????

    January 20, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  8. pojo

    I support this administration regardless of all this crap... they are doing a great job and we are in a much much better shape than we were last year or before that..

    anyone who underestimates the economy crisis created by the prev. administration is not just a dumb idiot but is also being playing into the hands of politics and people who only know to take advantage of the situation!!

    January 20, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    Brown promised if elected, health reform was done. He should go down in history as the one who destroyed the life dream of Teddy Kennedy.

    January 20, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  10. JBB

    "The people of Massachusetts have spoken for the rest of America."
    I highly disagree, I don't live in Mass and I am a tax paying American citizen and Mass is only one state out of the rest of the US.

    Because they have a Helath plan does not make them the answer for all other states. I think it is prematurely to assume that this election was the answer.

    Mr. Brown stated that states should come up with a plan on health care is like a death wish. Some states will never make it. Now we say, "One nation under God with liberty and justice for all."

    Mr. Brown won and now is a US Senator not only for the state of Mass
    but for the concerns for all states and people. US Senators or House of Represntatives should not only look out for their state agenda, but the people's agenda.

    People are suffering for a change in the Health Care system. When a group of people set out to block everything that the presdient is doing and their hidden agenda is for failure and it has been stated, my question is. .. where is the oath that they took for the good of all the people in the United States.

    It is not hard to believe that every republican senator voted no. When you already admit in your actions failure more than what your words do for success.

    If they had to walk in t he president's shoe a tenth of mile with all that was inherited from a previous administration, I wonderful what type of job they would do. You know everybody always has the answer, we should do this, that or the other, but most of the time those same people are part of the problem.

    January 20, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  11. Bob in Pa

    Strategy ? It's called throw it all out and start over.
    You don't have a viable solution that fits with the freedoms of America.

    Start by shrinking the Government and halting new spending projects, which will intern shrink the deficit.

    January 20, 2010 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  12. pojo

    This is NO freeaking referendum on the administration or what it's doing – period.

    People lost jobs , homes, savings ... everything sometimes but are we better off than we were in 2008 or even 2009 beginning ???

    I support this administration regardless of all this crap... they are doing a great job and we are in a much much better shape than we were last year or before that..

    anyone who underestimates the economy crisis created by the prev. administration is not just a dumb idiot but is also being playing into the hands of politics and people who only know to take advantage of the situation!!

    January 20, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  13. TCM

    that's right...scramble and scurry you liberal cockroaches!

    January 20, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  14. GJ

    God our political system is dysfunctional it's embarrasing. Every Congress is a do-nothing Congress...

    January 20, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  15. Mike1952

    When the dims had the super majority they couldn't get it passed. After they bribed senators for votes they couldn't get it passed. When they bowed to special interests (pharma & insurance cos.) they couldn't get it passed. When they let the unions lead them around by the nose they couldn't get it passed. When are these bozos going to understand if it was a good proposal none of that would have been required. The people are not as stupid as they estimated they are.

    January 20, 2010 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  16. #7 on the Bristol Chart

    Jpatt January 20th, 2010 11:49 am ET

    Hey Clint, I sense despair Repeating failed White House talking points status quo, self interest only serves to make your accusations laughable. Democrats toeing the Progressive agenda are a dying breed, set to be replaced by supporters of Palin and the TEA party aka We The People. Your American Idol (BHO) is a fraud, you are his sheep and over the cliff he leads you. Boo Yah

    You are just as much of a sheep-only a different color.

    January 20, 2010 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  17. Preston k

    Pkm if you do not pass healt care now the gop will kill the bill be mean obama being a nice guy will not cut it i know nice guys fimish last

    January 20, 2010 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  18. Phil in KC

    I don't know why lack of a 'super majority' means that the health care is dead. The Democrats still have enough votes to pass it. It only requires a simple majority. If the Republicans mount a fillibuster, the Democrats need to take them to task as the party of "no". They need to be painted as the party that opposes health care for all and as standing in the way of progress. If any Democrats vote against cloture, they need to be expelled from the caucus.
    I think they do need to pass the Senate bill, as-is. It is not ideal – far from it. But it may be the best deal we're likely to see in the foreseeable future. If they go back and try to negotiate with the Senate, they will fail, the bill will be scrapped, they will have to start over and the result will be a disaster. You may as well ask the insurance industry to write it.

    January 20, 2010 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  19. It's Time for the PH-Word ... you know like in Philadelphia

    It's time to call the GOPs bluff .... make the Bastards fillibuster stuff .... maybe not healthcare .... but let's embarrass their A-Word

    Let's let the American public see them talking for the sake of talking for 21 days straight ... 24 hours a day .... just to prevent legislation from being VOTED ON.

    The Democrats shouldn't just do this once but many many times until the GOP'ers are horse, sick, drained, malnurished, and just tired of sleeping on cots in the chamber.

    It's time for HARDBALL.

    January 20, 2010 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  20. Rick in OP

    It seems ironic that Massachusetts was the birthplace of the American Revolution in 1775 and Massachusetts would also be the place where the SECOND AMERICAN REVOLUTION started on January 19, 2010.

    January 20, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  21. Go Home

    Pelosi and Reid need to fold up their house of cards and go home to obscurity. Why can't they get it through their heads, most of the people do not want this welfare healthcare atrocity passed. Must be arrogance, huh. Term limits, term limits, term limits.

    January 20, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  22. EC

    Wow... I love how the media spins all this hot air.

    January 20, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  23. al in memphis

    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."

    ____________________________________________________

    Given the fact that the Republicans have not said one thing about health care reform during the Bush years, this is not a suprise. Besides, 30-36 million of American people who can't access adequate health care is not really a big deal to them. I hope this statements are repeated at election time.
    BTW- I'm not a Democrat

    January 20, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  24. Kevin in Ohio

    The solution is SIMPLE. START OVER and LISTEN to the reasonable solutions offered by conservatives. And take it in small bites....NOT all at once in a government power grab!

    January 20, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  25. New Age Independent

    Maybe the most telling quote about Democrats here. Durbin says "We haven't decided on a strategy."

    Mr Durbin, you are the problem. Americans don't want a political party to need a strategy to fill their pockets with our money. You're there to represent the people and help us to arrive at reform that works for everyone. Making deals with banks, unions, and individual senators for support IS THE PROBLEM!

    January 20, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
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