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'Pause … reflect'

Healthcare | After losing the election in Massachusetts, Democrats slow down their push for healthcare reform

WASHINGTON-The shop-worn mantra "elections matter" continues to get its validation this week on Capitol Hill.

Now Scott Brown's second victory after securing a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts may be almost single-handily squashing healthcare reform as currently written by Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted to reporters Thursday that not enough Democrats support their quickest healthcare fix: bypassing the need for another Senate vote by simply passing the Senate bill in the House.

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"Unease would be a gentle word with regards to the attitude of my colleagues toward the Senate bill," Pelosi said. "I don't see the votes for it at this time."

House Democrats are publicly opposing the numerous deals senators secured for their states in exchange for their healthcare vote last month. Healthcare reform may still pass, but more likely in a severely curtailed version than the sweeping measures championed by Democrats all of last year.

It seems that-at least in public-Democratic congressional leaders are finally listening to their public's healthcare concerns. Lawmakers ignored last summer's contentious town hall confrontations, a couple of super-sized rallies on Capitol Hill, and polls that consistently showed that most Americans opposed the current sweeping healthcare bills. But so far, they have not ignored something near and dear to their own job security-an election loss.

Pelosi, during Thursday's Capitol Hill press conference, started spouting words that her Republican congressional colleagues shouted last fall.

"What we are doing now is very calm," she said while gesturing a slow down motion with her hands. "We are not in a big rush. Pause . . . reflect. We will take the time it needs to get it right."

Over on the Senate side of the Capitol, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a chief architect of the Senate's healthcare bill and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, echoed Pelosi's words.

"We are in a kind of let-the-dust-settle period right now," he said. "Not enough people know quite what to do next."

Emerging from two days of closed-door meetings, Democrats have their post-election talking points.

On day two of A.M. (after Massachusetts), terms like "public option' and "insurance mandates" were not a part of Pelosi's vocabulary. Instead, she focused on issues that many agree should be corrected: eliminating the insurance exclusions for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, making premiums more affordable to the middle class, and holding insurance companies more accountable.

She was light on the details but often repeated the phrase "middle class," which could be code words for the "independent voter" largely credited with bringing victory to Brown in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

Democrats are clearly now more conscious about tying their reform plans to the needs of the middle class/independent voter. To that end, Democrats all over Capitol Hill have been preaching the employment gospel.

"Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. It all comes down to jobs," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told a crowd of reporters this week, soon after a private weekly Democratic strategy lunch. Clearly touting the party line after the locker-room pep talk, Cardin uttered the word "jobs" nearly a dozen times in his brief encounter with reporters.

"If they think it is their messaging, they are really out of touch with what the American people are saying," exclaimed House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, during his Thursday snarky critique of the new Democrats suddenly walking around the Capitol.

Senate officials say it may take about 10 days to officially seat Sen.-elect Brown. But Brown's own people are not worried about the time frame because Democratic leaders have agreed to hold off on healthcare reform until he is sworn in. Meanwhile, Republicans would be remiss in continuing a victory dance without offering real alternatives of their own.

"The bill is dead," Boehner declared, before becoming backtracking a bit. "Well, maybe not quite as dead as I want it. Our goal is to stop this monstrosity."

The bad news for Democrats is that they lost a game-changing election this week. The good news for Democrats is that they have nine-and-a-half months to recover before the next, much bigger election.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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