Dems’ enthusiasm on healthcare wanes

The healthcare thrill is gone.

A year ago, Democrats gushed with excitement about reforming the nation’s healthcare system. Now they talk about it like an unfinished chore.

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“I don’t think you’ll find much enthusiasm, but there are people who believe it has to be done, whether it’s with enthusiasm or not,” said Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). “The debate has become so polarized and so divisive that people are saying, ‘We’ve got to revisit this, but it will be out of a sense of obligation.’ ”

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), a centrist from a right-leaning state, issued a press statement in February 2009 hailing President Barack Obama’s address to Congress and saying he “shared the urgency” to address healthcare reform.

Fatigued from a year of rancor, however, Pryor and other Democrats on Tuesday said they would revisit the issue only reluctantly.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on this last year, and my sense is that most senators would like to move on to other subjects like jobs and the economy,” said Pryor. “But it depends on what form it comes back in.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said, “If we stop now, it’ll be another 15 years before we get this close again.”

From senior party leaders to the rank and file, members of the majority party denied the issue of healthcare is dead and said they would renew their efforts after a series of pending bills to spur job growth. But they have acknowledged that the path to passage is much more complicated in the wake of

Republican Scott Brown’s special-election win in Massachusetts last month.

To cool temperatures, some Democrats suggested restarting the effort by focusing on ideas that appear to draw some bipartisan support, such as allowing health insurers to compete across state lines, removing antitrust exemptions for insurers and barring loopholes for pre-existing conditions

“We have to work out a bill; the question is what, and that’s the not-easy part,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “If it has to be incremental, so be it.”

Privately, Democratic leaders say they plan to decide their future strategy within the next few days. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday that the issue would be revived “in the near future.”

“We plan to do healthcare this year, and we plan to do it as quick as we can,” Reid said Tuesday.

A couple of Democrats, including Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), anticipated “a lot” of enthusiasm for revisiting the issue.

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“People recognize this as a serious issue for families and businesses across the country, and we’ve worked really hard on it,” Murray said. “This is something that hits families. It has a huge impact.”

Among the more skeptical Democrats: Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), who has said the legislation is “on life support.”

“I’m for trying to move forward. But it’s very unclear right now,” Landrieu said. ”It’s got a pulse, it’s got a possibility. But it’s going to be very difficult to get anything through reconciliation, even with trying to get 50 votes.”