With no clear path forward on major health care legislation, Democratic leaders in Congress effectively slammed the brakes on President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority on Tuesday, saying they no longer felt pressure to move quickly on a health bill after eight months of setting deadlines and missing them.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., deflected questions about health care.
“We’re not on health care now,” Reid said. “We’ve talked a lot about it in the past.”
He added, “There is no rush,” and noted that Congress still had most of this year to work on the health bills passed in 2009 by the Senate and the House.
Reid said he and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, were working to map out a way to complete a health care overhaul in coming months. “There are a number of options being discussed,” he said, emphasizing “procedural aspects” of the issue.
At the same time, two centrist Democrats who are up for re-election this year, Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Evan Bayh of Indiana, said they would resist efforts to muscle through a health care bill using a parliamentary tactic called budget reconciliation, which seemed to be the easiest way to advance the measure.
The White House had said in recent days that it would support that approach.
Some Democrats said they did not expect any action on health care legislation until late February at the earliest, perhaps after Congress returns from a weeklong recess after Presidents’ Day. But the Democrats stand to lose momentum, and every day closer to the November election could reduce their chances of passing a far-reaching bill.
The gear shifting by Democrats underscored how the health care effort had been derailed by the Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election last week, which effectively denied Democrats the 60th vote they need to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Originally, Reid wanted to finish a bill early last August.