[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/20/art.obama0909.gi.jpg caption="Obama's first year: Strong foundation or house of cards?"]Washington (CNN) - He was talking about health care, but President Obama could have just as easily been summing up his entire first year when he made some blunt comments in a closed-door meeting with House Democrats last week.
Democratic sources who were in the room say Obama, pressed by liberals angry about the reform package getting watered down, decided to quote Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who said recently: "What we're building here is not a mansion, it's a starter home. It's a starter home, but it's got a great foundation for expanding health care coverage to 31 million Americans."
Obama's point was that he believes the health bill - if it can pass (and that's in real doubt now) - would be a dramatic step forward but is just the first draft. He hopes to come back later in his presidency to pass a second reform package that finishes the job.
The same goes for other big Obama promises like energy reform to deal with climate change and financial regulatory reform to clean up Wall Street - "mansions" that have not been built yet, even though a strong "foundation" has been put down to meet these promises in the future.
But Republican Scott Brown's stunning victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday suggests Obama may not even get the first draft of health care reform through Congress, because of a huge split in his own party: Angry liberals in the House are signaling they will not rush through what they consider to be the Senate's weak version of reform before Brown gets seated in the Senate, while skittish conservative Democrats in the Senate, like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, may no longer be on board with any kind of reform, out of a fear of becoming the next Martha Coakley.