WASHINGTON — Chastened by the Democratic Senate loss in Massachusetts, President Barack Obama and congressional allies signaled Wednesday they may try to scale back his sweeping health care overhaul in an effort to at least keep parts of it alive.
A simpler, less ambitious bill emerged as an alternative only hours after the loss of the party's crucial 60th Senate seat forced the Democrats to slow their all-out drive to pass Obama's signature legislation despite fierce Republican opposition. The White House is still hoping the House can pass the Senate bill in a quick strike, but Democrats are now considering other options.
Obama urged lawmakers not to try to jam a bill through, but scale the proposal down to what he called "those elements of the package that people agree on."
"We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people," the president said in an interview with ABC News. "We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don't then our budgets are going to blow up. And we know that small businesses are going to need help."
One potential Republican convert for health care legislation remained an enigma. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who has been in regular contact with Obama, criticized the Democrats' hard push to pass their bill. But she would not rule out voting for something in the end.
Asked if the Democratic bills are dead, Snowe responded: "I never say anything is dead, but clearly I think they have to revisit the entire issue."
Some Democratic senators suggested it was up to the House to save the day by passing the Senate bill.
"The Senate has passed the health care bill. The House has to make a decision how they want to proceed," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the leadership.
Republicans said that would make their day.
Trying to push the Senate bill through would be a desperate ploy seen as such by voters, said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.