With health care reform in a political "timeout," President Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats plan to pursue legislation that would create jobs and strengthen the economy in hopes of winning back a disenchanted public.
Democrats hope to release a jobs bill this week or next, said Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. He said it will likely include funding for construction and infrastructure projects.
"We can't just get paralyzed by this health care problem," Mr. Harkin said Friday on Capitol Hill.
Republicans, meanwhile, say they have a plan to create jobs as well.
"Well, the first thing you do is you stop this job-killing health care bill," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on NBC's "Meet the Press. "And you don't pass the energy tax that passed the House earlier this year. Their prescription for new jobs is obviously higher taxes. Don't do that."
Democratic leaders say they're taking time to let the political firestorm sparked by Sen.-elect Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts die down before they make any decisions whether or how to move forward on health reform. They suggest that lawmakers need a break from the grueling, yearlong quest to pass health care reform and help Mr. Obama deliver on his top legislative priority.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, who led legislation through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, suggests a month or six weeks to focus on other legislative items.
Mr. Harkin said that looking toward the 2010 midterm elections, abandoning health care would be "the worst possible step."
"Then the Republicans will go out there with their ads saying, 'Look, the Democrats can't govern, they can't get anything done.' Now, you can't answer that ad," he said. "But if we get a health care bill through … that Democrat has a lot of firepower to come back and say, 'You bet I voted to make sure they can't keep you out for pre-existing conditions. … You bet I voted for no lifetime caps. You bet I voted for more prevention and wellness programs. Yes, I did.' "
Republicans argue that Mr. Brown's win is a sign from voters to bury the health care bill and move on, hoping to hammer home their messages of reducing the debt and decreasing federal spending.
Mr. McConnell said the public has spoken, and it's not happy with the health care overhaul created by Democrats. He didn't declare it dead, but said it was finished in its current form." What we really need to do is start over," he said on "Meet the Press."
Health care advocacy groups, such as Families USA, hope to hear about a way forward on the legislation in President Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday.
"Democrats are in a state of shock right now," executive director Ron Pollack said. "I think we will have a clearer sense of where we're going in the State of the Union."
But Mr. Obama plans to focus largely on job-creation plans in his address, White House political adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
"The Recovery Act the president passed has created more than — or saved more than 2 million jobs. But against 7 million [jobs lost since early 2007], you know, that — that is — it is cold comfort to those who still are looking," Mr. Axelrod said. "And you'll hear in the State of the Union his — some of his ideas about additional steps that we can take to help create and stir hiring around the country."
Public polling shows that voters' appetite for the health bill is waning as the debate has dragged on for more than a year.
Fifty-five percent of participants in a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 20 said Congress should end the work on its current bills and consider alternatives that have wider support.
A Rasmussen Reports poll completed Jan. 20 and 21 had similar findings: 61 percent of respondents say Congress should drop plans to pass any health bill and move toward work on the economy and job creation.
The Massachusetts election — in which Mr. Brown's pledge to vote against health reform was a cornerstone — has had tremendous impact, polls show. Seventy-two percent of respondents in the Gallup Poll said the race reflects Americans' frustrations.
Hoping to prevent further electoral surprises, Mr. Obama has recruited David Plouffe, the political mind behind his presidential campaign, to return to the White House.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told "Fox News Sunday" that Mr. Plouffe will, "help supplement an already good political staff led by Patrick Gaspard in the White House in helping us watch the 2010 elections, the gubernatorial, the Senate and the House elections, that will obviously be important to the direction of the country."
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