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Dodd: Democrats Need to Regroup on Approach to Health Care Bill

By Drew Armstrong, CQ Staff

January 22, 2010 -- A top Senate Democrat said Friday that the majority party should take a break of up to six weeks in the health care debate to allow the caucus to regroup and refocus on how to move a bill forward.

Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., said it will be up to President Obama to get Democrats' health care legislation back on track, perhaps by taking "a breather for a month, six weeks, and quietly go back and say the door's open again."

Democrats in both chambers have been reeling from the loss of their Senate seat in Massachusetts to GOP state Sen. Scott P. Brown. They have yet to come up with a strategy for how to move a health care overhaul forward, and have spent the past few days huddling privately to try to come up with a path for their bill.

"We're sort of discussing it, taking a little breather here because we've got to start moving the jobs bill," said Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "But we can't just get paralyzed by this health care problem."

Dodd said it will take substantial presidential leadership to guide the rest of the legislative process and calm Democrats. He said he expects Obama to do just that during his State of the Union address on Jan. 27.

"Maybe we do need to take this time . . . and say, 'Look I want all of us to take a month," Dodd said. "It isn't as if you'll have nothing to do around here . . . there's a lot of other issues that could fill up the time of the Congress while we sat down and see if there wasn't some way to resolve these differences and come up with a health care bill."

Harkin and Dodd made their comments after a meeting with other Senate health players in the offices of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The options they are considering could include a substantially scaled back piece of legislation that is far from the sweeping overhaul they imagined originally.

"As I said, 'starter home.' Maybe it's a smaller starter home," said Harkin, who has pushed the idea that any legislation Democrats are able to pass will always have room for expansion and improvement.

Another option that has been floated is to clear the Senate health bill (HR 3590) in the House, while concurrently passing a bill—likely through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process—that incorporates changes on revenue and tax items that the House wants to see.

That option will take far more political courage and cajoling, however. House Democrats have signaled they are wary of that option and might have difficulty rounding up the votes to clear the Senate bill.

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