WASHINGTON — Democratic congressional leaders are coalescing around their last, best hope for salvaging President Barack Obama's sweeping health care overhaul.
Their plan is to pass the Senate bill with some changes to accommodate House Democrats, senior Democratic aides said Monday. Leaders will present the idea to the rank and file this week, but it's unclear whether they have enough votes to carry it out.
Last week's victory by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts cost Democrats the 60th vote they need to maintain undisputed control of the Senate, jeopardizing the outcome of the health care bill just when Obama had brokered a final deal on most of the major issues.
"We've put so much effort into this, so much hard work, and we were so close to doing some significant things. Now we have to find the political path that brings us out. And it's not easy," the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said Monday.
The new strategy is as politically risky as it is bold. There is widespread support for Obama's goals of expanding coverage to nearly all Americans while trying to slow costs. But polls show the public is deeply skeptical of the Democratic bills, and Republicans would certainly accuse Democrats of ignoring voters' wishes.
Obama initially voiced doubts last week that a comprehensive bill was still viable, but he now seems to be pushing for it. Asked Monday if the president was backing away from his pursuit of major changes, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responded: "No."
"I think the president believes that the circumstances that led him to undertake greater security for people in their health care … existed last year, last week and this week," Gibbs said.