Democrats in both the House and Senate and beyond hailed President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight as a major step forward on health care reform. But when the speech ended, and members filed out of the House chamber, one thing was abundantly clear: no matter how good tonight’s speech was, it did not break the congressional health care logjam.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said the President sent “exactly the right message.”
“He made it very clear that he isn’t walking away from health care with his tail between his legs,” Wiener added.
That view was echoed by members in both chambers, and at least one powerful Democratic ally.
“This was an important message to get it done,” Anna Burger, president of the labor federation Change to Win, told me in a brief interview. “They can do reconciliation…I think it’s perfectly doable.”
But for all the plaudits Obama’s words won tonight, it appears that neither the House nor the Senate–stuck in a health care face-off since Democrats lost a Senate seat in Massachusetts last week–is prepared to blink.I asked House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) whether Obama had helped ease the gridlock.
“Four different occasions tonight the President says, ‘I’m calling upon the Senate to act on what the House has done,'” Clyburn said.
Did the President make your job on health care easier?
“It’s in the Senate’s court,” Clyburn insisted. “These things that the President talked about tonight, 90 percent of them have already been done by the House. So I don’t have a job to do. He made that very clear.”
But his colleagues in the other chamber have the exact opposite view.
“At this point I think the ball is in the House’s court on health care,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) told me. “They have to decide whether to accept the Senate bill. If they don’t then that complicates matters over here…. The problem at this point is how to get the votes in the House.”
Bayh and others said that the President couldn’t have undone what he referred to as the “gordian knot” tying up health care reform–but that his insistence that they regain composure and finish the job will go a long way toward getting legislators to act.
“I believe it will bring them together,” Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told me. “We have two bills–one is better than the other–but there is good parts in both and there’s no reason on earth that we can’t make that turn out alright.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) had a somewhat different take. He said that the gridlock on all issues will continue until Republicans adopt a new posture.
“The only thing that’s ultimately going to break the gridlock is for the Republicans to conclude that it’s not in their political interest to be the party of obstruction and distortion,” Whitehouse said. “And when that happens things will start to move.”
Was Obama’s message to Republicans tonight effective in that regard?
“I think it helped.”