Dems look for a way to press ahead on health care 

President Barack Obama’s top adviser and senior Democratic lawmakers on pledged to push forward with health care reform, insisting that the nation still wants legislation despite weakening poll numbers and a Republican win in a Massachusetts election that became a referendum on their proposal.

But White House senior adviser David Axelrod is no longer talking about public insurance programs, mandatory coverage or expansion of care for the poor. Instead, there is a new populist message coming from the White House, one focused on jobs and the economy that will likely be echoed in Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday.

“This president’s never going to stop fighting to create jobs, to raise incomes, and to push back on the special interests’ dominance in Washington and this withering partisanship that keeps us from solving problems,” Axelrod said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Axelrod insisted that Scott Brown’s victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in the race to fill the seat long held by Ted Kennedy was not a signal from voters that they reject the $1 trillion Democratic health care proposal.

Axelrod said people still want health care, but they want the proposal to be put together differently.

“The process, eight months of debate, were less than satisfying and that was clear,” Axelrod said on ABC’s “This Week.”  “And if you look at the polls out of Massachusetts, people reacted as much to the process as anything else. Were there things we could have done there? Perhaps. We have to think that through.”

Axelrod suggested a scaled-back bill, making no mention Sunday of the national insurance plan and deep cuts to Medicare that were the key elements of the president’s original plan. Instead, he talked about addressing insurance reforms for small businesses and people with pre-existing conditions as well as shoring up Medicare.

Democrats in the House and Senate, meanwhile, are trying to figure out how they can salvage some kind of health care bill. The original package, which has dominated the agenda in Congress for most of the last year now appears to lack enough support in either chamber for final passage.

Democrats are weighing two possibilities: Pass a scaled-back version in smaller pieces, or try to move the current Senate health care bill through the House and then make changes to it through a parliamentary maneuver known as reconciliation, which would require just 51 votes for passage.

But Brown’s victory makes the second plan far less likely, because House and Senate Democrats have gotten a clear message that voters reject the bill’s main components.

“Every passing day that has less traction in the House,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said of the reconciliation route. “We just had a cataclysmic election and people are trying to figure out what it means.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that Republicans would be willing to work on a bill that lowers health care costs.

“What I hope is that this current bill we have on the table is finished,” McConnell said. “The American people are telling us to please stop.”

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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