Dorgan: President should have focused on jobs, not healthcare, last year

A top Senate Democrat on Friday stressed that jobs and economic recovery, not healthcare reform, should have been the president's top priority last year.

While Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) described President Barack Obama's focus on healthcare as "very important," he said the timing of Obama's legislative push ultimately "wasn't good."

The North Dakota senator later added Obama should have pursued an agenda that was "all economy, all the time [and] all jobs, all the time" in order to "repair this economy and put people back to work" more quickly.

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"It's hard to reach as high as you need to reach to put together a healthcare proposal that can get through the Congress" during an economic downturn, Dorgan told C-Span's "Newsmakers" in an interview that will air Saturday.

"But the president won the election -- I didn't," added Dorgan, who will not run for re-electionis thyear. "His position is you can't fix the economy without fixing healthcare. There's some truth to that. But we found it very difficult, however, to create a menu of healthcare changes that could be enacted and signed into law by the president."

Dorgan's admission Friday that Democrats erred by focusing almost exclusively on healthcare reform in 2009 is sure not to sit well with the party's leaders.

Top Democrats once sincerely believed they could complete their bill by the beginning of January -- a target rendered impossible by the party's loss of its 60th vote in the Senate.

That absence of a supermajority has thus imperiled both chambers' healthcare bills, as Democratic leaders have yet to decide how to address key policy differences between their two proposals. Moreover, it is unclear how Democrats might bring that final product to each chamber's respective floor -- and more importantly, how they plan to pass it.

Nevertheless, Dorgan stressed Friday that Democrats should continue their policy pivot to jobs, in order to address the nation's 10 percent unemployment rate. He also touted a jobs package that he and other Democrats plan to introduce to the Senate floor next week, a proposal some estimate could cost $80 billion.

But Dorgan made explicitly clear that one jobs bill would not reverse months of economic decline, as some lawmakers might suggestion.

"It's certain that between now and the end of this year there's no lever to pull to put massive quantities of people back on payrolls," he said.

"But you can, at the margins, stimulate and incentivize some activity," Dorgan added, noting the Senate's coming proposal would do just that.

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