Obama, Senate Democrats turn attention to jobs while healthcare reform stalls

President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats are turning their attention to jobs and the economy while healthcare reform is frozen on Capitol Hill.
 
Obama flew to Cleveland on Friday morning to visit manufacturing plants and stress that his administration is focused on creating jobs.
 

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In addition to visiting several plants and factories, including a metal components plant and wind turbine manufacturing plant, the president addressed a town hall audience in Elyria, Ohio, lauding administration moves to shore up the economy such as the auto bailouts and the Recovery Act.

"Today, because of the actions we took, the worst of this economic storm has passed," Obama said. "But families like yours and communities like Elyria are still reeling from the devastation left in its wake."
 
In Washington, Senate Democratic leaders met Friday morning to put together a jobs-creation package that they could unveil as soon as next week.
 
“We’ve been working on this quite a while but this morning’s meeting was pivotal; we made a lot of progress,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), one of the Senate point men on putting together jobs legislation.
 
Dorgan met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Senate committee chairmen for about an hour Friday to make some final decisions about the package.
 
“I’d expect you would hear very soon what our plans are,” Dorgan said. He declined to reveal the size of the package or detail the programs it would include.
 
Republicans have accused Democrats of ignoring the economy to focus on healthcare reform and other priorities popular among the Democratic base.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a statement Friday highlighting a 13 percent unemployment rate in Nevada.

“While Harry Reid remains preoccupied with championing the special interests’ liberal agenda in Washington, his constituents continue to suffer during Nevada’s troubling economic downturn,” said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh.
 
The House narrowly passed a $154 billion jobs bill in December. Obama and Senate Democrats turned to the issue of jobs while the healthcare bill stalled on Capitol Hill.
 
“There’s kind of re-evaluation going on,” said Dorgan of the healthcare bill. “There’s an assessment going on of what’s possible. The assessment is not complete and it’s not quite clear what is possible at this point in terms of the road forward.
 
“I think the White House is part of this same pause,” he said.

Yet Obama did not shy away from the healthcare impasse while addressing the Ohio town hall.

"Now, we’ve gotten pretty far down the road, but I have to admit, we’ve run into a bit of a buzz saw along the way," Obama said. "The long process of getting things done runs headlong into the special interests, their armies of lobbyists, and partisan politics aimed at exploiting fears instead of getting things done. And the longer it’s taken, the uglier the process has looked."

White House officials and Senate Democrats hope the House will pass the Senate version of the healthcare bill without changes and send it to Obama’s desk for a signature.
 
But a large bloc of House Democrats have refused to approve the Senate bill, voicing a litany of concerns.
 
In the wake of the surprise Republican victory in the special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) in Massachusetts, House lawmakers have become increasingly worried about what is known as the “Cornhusker kickback” in the Senate bill.
 
The provision, secured by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), would have the federal government pay for increases in Nebraska’s Medicaid obligations. No other state would benefit from such an arrangement.


House lawmakers have also voiced opposition to a Senate provision to tax high-cost insurance plans and criticized the level of subsidies for the uninsured.
 
Some House lawmakers have proposed scrapping the Senate bill and starting anew by crafting a scaled-down version of healthcare reform or passing its most popular components piecemeal.
 
But Senate Democratic leaders have rejected that approach, at least so far.
 
“The pieces fit together,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has argued against passing reform incrementally.
 
Baucus noted that it would be difficult to ban insurance companies from discriminating against pre-existing medical conditions without implementing a mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.
 
“The insurance reform really depends on Americans getting health insurance,” Baucus said. “You need both together; one alone doesn’t work very well. That’s the problem with a piecemeal approach.”