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Obama: Don't 'jam' bill past GOP

Photo by Charles Krupa

Photo by Charles Krupa

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama advised fellow Democrats against trying to jam a health care bill through Congress after taking a devastating hit from the loss of a Senate seat. He said Wednesday it's time to come together around a bill that can draw Republican support, too.

When Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown takes office he will hand the GOP power to block the Democratic agenda, including Obama's top domestic priority of extending health coverage to the uninsured.

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

Now Democrats need to reach across the aisle on popular health care provisions such as cost controls and aid to small businesses, he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Obama political adviser David Axelrod said administration officials will take into account the message voters delivered Tuesday in electing Brown, but he declined to go further.

''It's not an option simply to walk away from a problem that's only going to get worse,'' Axelrod said.

Asked if the Democrats' bill, as currently written, is dead, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky responded: ''I sure hope so.''

But senior Democrats echoed Axelrod's determination to press ahead, even as they acknowledged it's not clear just how they will do that.

The quickest route is for the House to approve the Senate-passed bill and send it to Obama. But it's not clear Democrats in the House have the votes -- or the White House's support. Another alternative calls for the Senate Democrats to promise changes later on, part of a deal to get the House to pass the bill. But Senate Democrats may not be able to deliver on such a promise.

A third option emerged Wednesday -- a scaled-back bill that would keep centrist Democrats in line and perhaps attract the support of moderate Republicans.

That appeared to be Obama's preferred approach.

''I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements in the package that people agree on,'' he said in an interview with ABC News.

Lawmakers said the party would be looking to Obama for his ideas about what to do next since expanding health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and reining in rising medical costs have been his top domestic initiative.

''I do believe this really does present the president of the United States a golden opportunity to say here's what we're doing, here's how I want to lead the country in health care,'' said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who added that Obama and Democrats would have to move within 4-6 weeks or ''we've lost it for this year.''

The stinging loss Tuesday cost Obama the 60-vote Senate majority he was counting on to block Republican delaying tactics and pass the far-reaching legislation. The outcome splintered the rank and file on how to salvage the bill, energized congressional Republicans and left Obama and the Democrats with fallback options that range from bad to worse.