Obama: Congress Shouldn't "Jam" Health Care Through

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Updated 3:35 p.m. Eastern Time

President Obama said today that Congressional Democrats shouldn't "shouldn't try to jam anything through" on health care reform before Scott Brown takes his seat in the Senate.

"The people of Massachusetts spoke," he said. "He's got to be part of that process."

He also suggested that Brown, the Massachusetts Republican whose shocking victory in the Massachusetts special election on Tuesday cost Democrats their Senate supermajority, was elected for the same reason he was.

"Here's my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country: the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office," Mr. Obama told ABC News in an interview that will air in full later today and tomorrow. "People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years."

In his campaign, Brown opposed the health care reform effort, casting himself as the last, best chance to keep the legislation from passing. During his White House briefing Wednesday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the reform effort remains a priority for the president.

"We are working through the best way forward as the president continues his commitment to get health care reform done," he said. Gibbs declined to go into specifics about the White House approach in the wake of Brown's win, saying the discussions are ongoing.

On Wednesday, two Democratic senators, Tom Harkin and Max Baucus, raised the possibility of using the reconciliation process, which circumvents the filibuster, to pass a scaled-down version of the bill.

"Reconciliation, I'm guessing at this point will be part of the solution," Baucus said, adding that "we're trying to find a way to move very quickly."

Also Wednesday, Obama adviser David Axelrod said "it's not an option simply to walk away from a problem that's only going to get worse."

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In the ABC interview, Mr. Obama said he now wants to "move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on."

"We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people," he said. "We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don't, then our budgets are going to blow up. And we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance for their families."

He called those issues "some of the core elements of this bill" and said Americans should understand that "a lot of the fear mongering around this bill isn't true."

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say Democrats will move forward with the bill, though they have not discussed specifics. Echoing Mr. Obama, Reid said Wednesday that Brown would be sworn in "before we do anything new on health care."

Democrats could pass the bill despite Brown's victory if the House agreed to pass the weaker Senate version. But the president seemed to close the door on that possibility with his comments today.

"I think it is very important for the House to make its determinations," he said. "I think, right now, they're feeling obviously unsettled and there were a bunch of provisions in the Senate bill that they didn't like, and so I can't force them to" pass the Senate version.

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In the ABC interview, Mr. Obama also suggested "we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises" that the White House "lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values."

He said he would try to do better in connecting to Americans who feel "remoteness and detachment" from the White House and have a sense that "there's these technocrats up here making decisions."

"Maybe some of them are good, maybe some of them aren't, but do they really get us and what we're going through?" he said, channeling the American people.

At the press briefing, Gibbs said Brown's victory didn't necessarily mark a public repudiation of the health care bill, the centerpiece of the president's first year agenda. He said the legislation wasn't "the only reason people voted for" the Republican candidate, though he said it "was an aspect of it."

Gibbs said number of Democrats bear responsibility for the election result, including those in the White House. He suggested the economy played a major role in the outcome of the race.

"The anger and frustration in this country about where we are economically is something that we heard and saw last night in Massachusetts," he said.

"People that are working longer, working harder, that are more productive, and they're watching their wages fall," said Gibbs. "They're watching their jobs move overseas. They're watching their families not have the same opportunities that they did. And they're feeling insecure about their own future. I think that is a wake-up call for everybody in this town."