Image: Pelosi
Jose Luis Magana  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.
updated 1/27/2010 6:33:33 PM ET 2010-01-27T23:33:33

Giving up on overhauling the nation's health care system is not an option, the top House Democrat said Wednesday as lawmakers looked to President Barack Obama for guidance in his State of the Union address on how to revive the stalled legislation.

Asked if Congress might abandon a health care initiative beset with political and policy problems, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responded: "I don't see that as a possibility. We will have something."

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told congressional staff that Obama will use Wednesday night's address to reiterate his commitment to an ambitious remake of the nation's health care system, similar to the call he issued last September after critics seized the momentum during a summer of angry town hall meetings.

Although lawmakers don't expect to hear a specific prescription for how to move forward, Pfeiffer said the president would offer "additional details" on his health care goals.

The speech comes as Democrats are struggling to find a way to advance health care legislation after the loss of a Massachusetts Senate seat last week cost them the 60-vote majority needed to deliver.

"The president is a strong persuader, as they say, and I think it makes an awful lot of difference, and I think he will bring everybody together," said Rep. John Larson, D-Conn.

Others were looking for a dose of reality from the president.

"I think he has to acknowledge that the well has been poisoned, that the debate has been lost, and tell the American people again why this is part of the economic strategy moving forward," said Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa. "Not an issue of fairness because we need to cover everybody, but it's the only way we're going to get our deficit in order in the long run is by addressing health care."

Democrats got encouragement Wednesday from groups as diverse as the nation's Catholic bishops and the head of the largest labor union federation. In a letter to members of Congress, the bishops urged lawmakers to "recommit themselves to enacting genuine health care reform."

"The health care debate, with all its political and ideological conflict, seems to have lost its central moral focus and policy priority, which is to ensure that affordable, quality, life-giving care is available to all," said clergy from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Now is not the time to abandon this task."

Similarly, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said the Senate should come up with a measure that the House can pass. "We fought too long and too hard for health care to quit for now," Trumka said in an interview.

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Video: Fixing a divided Congress Both the Catholic Church and labor unions have flexed their political muscle in the debate. The bishops say they won't support a final bill that includes Senate-passed language they see as too weak in restricting taxpayer funding for abortion. Labor unions struck a deal with the White House to weaken a proposed tax on high-cost insurance plans.

Pelosi didn't say whether the final bill will be the sweeping overhaul sought by Obama, or smaller-scale legislation that accomplishes only some of his goals. Democrats were on the verge of passing far-reaching legislation before the Massachusetts election.

Stunned by the loss, Democratic leaders have taken health care legislation off the fast track as they try to find a path forward acceptable to rank-and-file Democrats wary of unhappy midterm election voters.

The leading option for moving forward — having the House pass the Senate bill along with a package of changes that both chambers would approve — will take weeks, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday. That's time most lawmakers would much rather spend focusing on jobs and the economy, the concerns they say preoccupy their constituents. Many believe health care has become a political drag.

In a sign of the turmoil surrounding the issue, some House Democrats have begun pushing to revive a proposal for a government-run insurance plan left for dead months ago after it became clear it could not command the necessary votes in the Senate.

The House and Senate separately passed 10-year, nearly $1 trillion bills last year to remake the nation's medical system with new requirements for nearly everyone to carry health insurance and new regulations on insurers' practices. Negotiators were in the final stages of reconciling the differences between the two measures before last week's GOP upset in the race for the Senate seat long held by the late Edward M. Kennedy.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: White House to shift focus to jobs

  1. Closed captioning of: White House to shift focus to jobs

    >>> over the cliff again.

    >> from washington, moderator of "meet the press," david gregory . and political correspondent and political director, co-host of "the daily rundown," chuck todd . the president will be talking about how to get the economy started back again. we were struck by chuck schumer talking about a possible payroll tax cut. do you think we'll see a lot of ideas like that? i think it sounds like republican ideas.

    >> i think you will. i think it's a practical idea. something that republicans, don't forget, talked about the during the stimulus. the idea of a payroll tax credit or reduction. it's a way to get bipartisan support. i think senator schumer said something else that was important, and i think we'll hear more of that from the president. the focus? jobs. health care is certainly a priority, but not the priority. i was struck talking to a senior adviser last night, they want to resolve the problems on health care , but they know in the white house that there is no path right now to get that done and they want to put the attention on a jobs bill getting through congress before they necessarily get health care done which i think is a significant concession, and also potentially really dangerous, because if you let it sit there, it may just not get done.

    >> at the same time, chuck todd , david fluff righting in "the washington post " this weekend, he was brought in to help out with things politically, that health care will be a top priority . will they try and make a connection between health care and jobs, or move it to the side again?

    >> they did try that gamut back in the summer. frankly, when you talked to voters and their concerns about health occasion, it frankly has more to do with access to insurance and it's an economic problem , not a medical problem. that said, look at our poll when we asked, has president obama spent too much or too little time and a series of four issues. it was just so stark. something like 55% said he spent too little time on the economy. 44% said he spent too much time on health care . it was mirror images of each other. like david said, that's the type of focus you can expect tonight. he wants to show that he gets the message. they think one of the messages they received out of massachusetts was, hey, this health care push has made them look out of touch. that's something aides will concede. they won't concede whether the push for health care was the wrong thing to do. they'll concede the push for health care has made them look out of touch to america.

    >> dylan ratigan , another poll out there that shows that 60% of americans think that barack obama has been more focused on wall street than main street . only 20% think he has been focused sufficiently on main street . that's a huge problem, not just with populists in the center, but with his own base.

    >> no question about it. and you can hear across the board whether it's the president's comments or any of his advisers. they get this rhetorically. the rhetoric has changed. we'll see what changes in terms of action. i'm curious. mike barnicle and i talking about this a few seconds ago. we know barack obama will give a very compelling speech. this man is president of the united states , partially because he is such a compelling speaker. his rhetoric is wonderful. he winds stories for people, he makes you feel that all of these different things may, indeed, be possible. whether they are or not. that has been a tremendous asset for him. however, because of -- as bob her bett herbert called it, the credibility gap . how do they reconcile the potency of his speaking with questions about their ability to actually implement the change they speak of in this system?

    >> i think that's the key question. it's a question of confidence. one of the things chuck todd highlighted from our poll yesterday is that there are some 61% in this poll indicating that they don't have confidence that he's got the right policies in place as president of the united states . you know, i think there are a lot of people looking around saying i like barack obama . a great leader, terrific speaker. but is he the guy? really the guy to get this done? and the lack of confidence in his ability to solve problems i think goes in part to, not in whole -- but in part to the fact that people feel government is just not working effectively for them. so this is why the president has to focus on the economy. he's actually got to get some things done that deliver for people who are looking up and saying, wait a minute, wall street is healthy, but i'm not. i'm out of a job, worried about losing a job. that's what he's got to deliver. he has to speak to those people which is why you are hearing the pop lymph a populism and fighting for the little guy while wall street gets ahead.

    >> at moments like this, the president has come through, like the nobel speech.

    >> the nobel speech, he was great there. he was great in berlin. and did you see cairo? listen, he's not the best --

    >> this could be the best yet. i believe it.

    >> he's an incredible speaker. the question is -- it goes to the actions.

    >> so, chuck, all these incredible speeches, wall all listen and say, wow, what a speech and out there in the country tomorrow, 10% of the people will say what a great speech he gave. pass the corn flakes because i have no job to go to. what do they do about that? come on.

    >> that's the thing. they have to look like they are doing something right now on this, and whether it's tomorrow, for instance, he's going to florida, and i have to say, apparently they are announcing a bunch of money for high-speed rail and all this. and even that, on the one hand, you can argue that pushing for high-speed rail can be a job creator, that will make people say, no, no, no. what are you doing to get average businesses to create jobs? already, they are still struggling find what is it? and they can make the argument, if there were a magic piece of policy they can put on the table that said this will bring unemployment down three points from 10% to 7%, they would have introduced it already. there isn't this magic bill that does that, and there has to be a series of these things. if they are talking about high-speed rail tomorrow, more so than they are talking about job creation , they'll already look a tad out of touch. one thing i wanted to point out to dylan, by the way. in our poll, when we asked people various statements about whether they agree or disagree, 74% said not enough has been done to regulate wall street firms and the banking industry . that is an underrated issue in this respect. you have heard the president talk about it, and that i think you will see is one of the lessons or one of the issues that the white house will push to try to divide democrats and republicans a bit, and it will be going after wall street a little more.

    >> david greeg gregory, isn't there a fine balance not to undermine what they have done? and to highlight --

    >> i agree with that.

    >> and how what they have done may be helping?

    >> that's an important point, mika. there is a tendency to sit around and say what is he going to do about jobs? a lot of this is about political optics. that's important. the rule reality, there is only so much administration can do to fakt the unemployment rate . ronald reagan in part benefitted from how quickly the economy snapped back. there are fundamental concerns on how the economy can bounce back and lack of impetus for businesses to start spending again. all of that said, i think the president has to keep making the argument that we've come through such an anxious time in the country, but he's hopeful about the country. a lot of them -- reagan in '82. it's interesting how he will account for this first year. whether he's ambitious of the sense we have to come together, republicans and democrats, and keep the country moving forward. that's what people want to hear.

    >> and the problem is, if the president talks about what his one great success this year has been, he would say the white house would say we stopped the economy from goingory t oryver the cliff. if you can put that in year one, save the economy from great depression, that's a pretty good year. if you believe that, the problem is, it's connected to bailouts. it's connected to an unpopular stimulus program.

    >> and most importantly, a transfer of wealth, not based on work or value, but based on --

    >> no, the white house will say the stimulus has saved and created jobs, and that they need to put that on.

    >> but there are shortfalls in state budgets that are getting filled.

    >> david gregory , thank you for being with us. chuck todd , we can't wait to see your show "the daily rundown." chuck what time does "the daily rundown" start? 9:04, 9:05 today?

    >> i'm trying to keep him to time, chuck.

    >> dylan, i feel your pain, brother.

    >> join me in the afternoon any time. we start on time.

    >> it's like a train circling around laguardia. by 4:00 --

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