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Obama fails to bridge health care divide

Thursday, February 4, 2010

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama exhorted Democrats to "finish the job" on a health care overhaul Wednesday, but his comments failed to bridge deep divisions within his party.

Addressing a gathering of Senate Democrats, Obama insisted that lawmakers have an opportunity to remake the nation's system of medical care.

"Here we are with a chance to change it," he said. "And all of you put extraordinary work last year into making serious changes that would not only reform the insurance industry, not only cover 30 million Americans, but would also bend the cost curve and save a trillion dollars on our deficits."

That wasn't enough for Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu to upgrade her assessment of the health legislation's condition.

"Just declaring that he's still for it doesn't mean that it comes off life support. ... But I agree with the president that giving up is not an option," Landrieu said.

Congressional leaders are working to see whether they can move comprehensive legislation forward under complex procedures requiring a simple majority in the Senate rather than the 60-vote supermajority that Democrats lost after last month's special election in Massachusetts. The House and Senate each passed separate bills last year, but a deal to merge those measures was upended by Republican Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts.

The legislation remains stuck in limbo, and there were fresh signs Wednesday of greater skepticism among some rank-and-file Democrats.

California Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa, both moderates who voted for the House-passed health bill, burst out laughing when asked about the issue's fate.

Democrats are "having great difficulty trying to figure out what the art of the possible is," Costa said, adding, "some of our colleagues want their wish list to be the art of the possible."

Progressive Democrats in the House are fighting to revive a proposal for the government to sell health insurance in competition with private industry. That proposal was left for dead months ago when it became clear it could not pass the Senate.

The Progressive Caucus in the House renewed its appeal for the so-called public option, and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., circulated a letter in support of the idea that has attracted signatures from about 120 House Democrats.

Cardoza and Costa scoffed at that.

"Those people are delusional," Cardoza said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., insisted progress was being made.

"We are on track to have comprehensive health care reform for our country ... and there are several paths to that goal," Pelosi said.


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