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Moderates Not Ready to Abandon Health Care Reform

Moderate Senate Democrats didn’t appear ready to immediately abandon health care reform Wednesday, although they signaled a desire to take a step back and assess the political terrain after Scott Brown’s (R) upset victory in Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate special election.At the same time, Democratic centrists weren’t prepared to try to rush legislation through in advance of Brown being seated as the successor to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D). “I think everybody needs to let the dust settle a little bit and just see where we are in a few days,— moderate Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said in a brief interview Wednesday morning. “My guess is most Senators would prefer the House just pass our bill. But that’s not always the way it works around here. … I think it would be a mistake for us in the Senate to do something unusual and force it through right now before Sen. Brown gets seated.—“I think just give it some time and see what our options are,— Pryor added. “We have all year to work on this. We don’t have to do anything immediately.—Brown has vowed to be the 41st Republican to oppose health care reform should a reconciled House-Senate bill come back to the chamber for a vote. Given that all Republicans are opposed to the $871 billion Senate bill and like the House’s $1.2 trillion package even less, Democrats have few options before them that would allow them to get a bill to President Barack Obama’s desk.Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a moderate who provided the 60th vote to help push the Senate health care bill across the finish line late last month, said Brown’s 5-point victory over Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) in the overwhelmingly Democratic Bay State was a message that voters want more bipartisanship in Washington, D.C.Nelson did not disavow his support for the Senate bill nor did he urge Democratic leaders to end their effort to get legislation to Obama. However, Nelson declined to offer a preferred strategy moving forward. He also was noncommittal when asked whether he would support the House approving the Senate bill as-is, possibly because doing so might require the Senate to approve a cleanup package through reconciliation, a strategy that he generally opposes.“I don’t know what the best way forward is at this point,— Nelson told a conference call of Nebraska-based reporters.Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), another centrist, dismissed the idea of pushing a new bill through the Senate under reconciliation, which would allow the majority party to avoid the filibuster and clear some portions of the bill with a just 51 votes.But Carper said Obama and Congressional Democratic leaders should find some way of completing the health care reform effort, saying to delay or drop it altogether would be the wrong move.“I think we need to take a deep breath and consider a range of alternatives,— Carper said. “My own view is, the status quo of doing nothing is not a good alternative for our country.—Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), an Obama ally with a strong independent streak, said she has yet to make a decision on how Democrats should approach health care moving forward. However, McCaskill said she has determined that no health care votes should be held in the Senate prior to Brown being seated.Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said he still supports the health care bill that he voted for last month and would like to see it become law.“I think the bill that came out of the Senate is a bill that is going to work. That’s why I support it, and I hope we end up with it,— Tester said.

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