Obama Wants to Go Full Steam Ahead, But Can He?
As President Obama begins his second year in office there's little indication that he and his top advisors see the Massachusetts election as a watershed moment.
As top advisor David Axelrod told me, the president has no intention of giving up on his "aggressive agenda." Many Republicans and even some Democrats say the White House is in denial, that the decisive loss of Ted Kennedy's seat to a Republican means the president's agenda has been upended.
Republicans are confident, and many Democrats fear, that Scott Brown's stunning victory means the death of comprehensive health care reform – especially now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear that the House does not have the votes to pass the Senate bill.
That would appear to mean it's back to the drawing board, and trying to cobble together the most popular items of the bill, as the president suggested in his interview Wednesday with George Stephanopoulos.
But hold on: the White House is already correcting, or at least adjusting, the president's remarks. Not long after his interview aired the White House sent an email to reporters making clear that the president did not intend to rule out passing comprehensive health care reform. And at his briefing today Robert Gibbs said the president is still confident that Congress WILL pass something very similar to the House and Senate bills.
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How would he do that? The only way left would appear to be jamming it through under "reconciliation" procedures, which require only 51 votes in the Senate. That procedural path was created for specific types of budget-reducing legislation, and Republicans say it would be an outrage to use it for health care reform.
For months they've called it the "nuclear option" -- promising to respond with other procedural tactics that could turn the Senate into a barren, do-nothing wasteland. Yes, even worse than it is now.
It's hard to imagine moderate and conservative Democrats going that route, given how spooked many of them are – across the country -- by the big loss in Massachusetts. Many inside-the-beltway types are betting that the best Democrats can do (as the president himself said – perhaps prematurely) is cobble together whatever they can of the so-called "popular" provisions – like consumer protections from insurance company abuses, various cost-cutting measures, etc. We'll probably hear in the State of the Union next week – with some strong hints beforehand – if the president is indeed going that direction.
But imagine the explosion of anger from Republicans – and many Independent voters – if a trillion dollar health reform IS miraculously resurrected by Democrats after opponents thought they had killed it.
If you think Washington politics is an ugly blood sport now, just wait.
Obama: Congress Shouldn't "Jam" Health Care Through
Massachusetts Election: A Signal for Dems to Tack Left or Right?
Scott Brown: Win Sends "Powerful Message"
White House Downplays Scott Brown Victory
Washington Unplugged: Brown's Win Spells Trouble For Dems
Chip Reid is CBS News' chief White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.
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