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Obama, Dems Plan Steps Forward on Health Care

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Obama called on Republicans after yesterday's health care summit to do some "soul searching" to find a way to work with Democrats on health care. He made it very clear, however, that if they do not find a way, Democrats will move forward without them.

In fact, Democrats may start moving forward as early as next week. Still, the president suggested yesterday he is willing to wait a little longer for some Republicans to get on board with his plan before asking for a final vote.

"The question that I'm going to ask myself and that I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month's time or a few weeks' time or six weeks' time, we could actually resolve something," he said in his closing remarks.

An unnamed administration official later told the newspaper Roll Call that while the Mr. Obama was not putting forward a specific timetable, he was indicating that "we are going to continue moving forward over the next few weeks as we take the final steps necessary for passage."

Even before yesterday's summit, Democrats were reportedly considering passing a bill through the Senate using "reconciliation," a procedural move that bypasses the filibuster and only requires 51 votes to pass a bill. Big problems remain with that strategy, however, such as whether the House of Representatives can find the votes for a reconciliation bill.

Moreover, the president's suggestion he may want to wait as long as six more weeks for Republican support could create more of a challenge for congressional Democrats. They will break for Easter recess in four weeks, and it is easy for Congress to lose momentum on controversial legislation over a break.

House leaders expect Mr. Obama to send them a bill next week modified based on yesterday's discussion, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), a prominent player in the health care debate, told Politico.

The president yesterday suggested he would be unwilling to modify his bill to create a scaled-down, piecemeal approach to reform, as Republicans asked for.

"A step-by-step approach sounds good in theory, but the problem is, we can't solve pre-existing conditions if we don't do something about coverage," Mr. Obama said. "Baby steps don't get you to the place where people need to go. They need help right now."

Democrats in the House, however, may have few other options. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already started putting forward smaller, more specific health care bills, such as the recently-passed bill to repeal the health insurance industry's exemption from antitrust laws.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer put out a statement yesterday sounding cautiously optimistic, simply saying, "We hope that based upon this discussion we can move forward to accomplish the objectives we all agree on."

House Democrats just barely passed a comprehensive health care bill last year. Now, after a couple retirements and deaths, Democrats have fewer votes they can count in favor of the bill.

Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Penn.) voted against the health care bill in the House the first time around and said yesterday's summit did not make him much more optimistic about the bill's success, the New York Times reports.

"I don't see very many at all who voted no who are going to switch their votes unless there are substantial changes in the bill," he said.

Furthermore, it's unlikely the extra time Mr. Obama seems to be willing to give Republicans will result in any GOP votes.

"If he's not going to start over, no. This bill's a non-starter," House Republican Whip Eric Cantor told Politico after the summit. "I would hope that he would listen to us and come and do the kinds of things that we can agree on."

Check out today's episode of CBSNews.com's Washington Unplugged at left, and hear CBS News Chief Political Consultant Marc Ambinder give his take on what's next for health care.

Plus, CBS News' Wyatt Andrews previews his exclusive on disabled veterans being denied benefits.

More Coverage of the Health Care Summit:

Obama and Republicans: Who Will Blink First?
Marc Ambinder: The Summit was a Tie -- And That's Good News for GOP
Both Sides Dig in Heels at Health Care Summit
Will the Summit Impact Health Reform?
At Health Care Summit, More Pomp than Pith
Live Blog: Hotsheet Tracked the Whole Summit Point by Counterpoint
Fact Check: The Health Care Summit
Reaction and Analysis on Washington Unplugged
Photos: The Health Care Summit
All Hotsheet Coverage