Sebelius: Never had healthcare 'bill in my purse'

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Sunday stressed the Obama administration could not have written the healthcare bill in the White House and "dropped [it] on Congress."

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Rather, more forceful leadership by the administration would have ensured healthcare legislation was "dead on arrival" when it reached congressional lawmakers, she added, hinting at some of the healthcare troubles former President Bill Clinton experienced in the 1990s. 

Consequently, the secretary stressed the White House had no choice but to allow lawmakers to "arm" the bill on their own.

"You can't imagine how many conversations I had with folks during my confirmation hearing who thought I must have the bill in my purse, you know, just waiting for it to be given," the secretary told ABC's "This Week." "So that took a while for Congress to fully engage."

"What I can tell you, because of that partnership, the bill has passed the House, the bill has passed the Senate with a supermajority," she continued. "We have comprehensive legislation for the first time."

But it remains unclear whether congressional Democrats can still pass that legislation before the end of the month, as the president hopes.

While Sebelius said routinely on Sunday that the party would, ultimately, have the votes, a number of disagreements still pervade the Democratic caucus and complicate the bill's future.

Among those contentious issues is abortion, as a number of pro-life House Democrats -- still led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) -- believe their party has not built into the legislation safeguards to ensure federal dollars do not pay for abortions. Many of those pro-flife Democrats are now threatening to vote against the bill.

Sebelius, however, said Sunday that she believed both sides could still compromise and pass the legislation perhaps even before March 17, before the president departs on his trip to Asia.

"I think the Senate bill, actually, has a different set of words than the amendment that Rep. Stupak had in the House, but confirmed by legal scholars and various people that it does exactly the same thing," she said. "There are no federal funds for abortions. But I think that if that does not satisfy the congressman, the conversations will continue."

"But certainly, his goal and the president's goal are the same -- do not change the status quo on abortion," Sebelius said.