Congress needs consensus on health care

Reform legislation must be accepted, perhaps even embraced, by the majority of Americans.

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When Republican Scott Brown won the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts recently, it looked as if President Obama's health-care reform legislation was essentially dead. The Democrats' 60 percent supermajority in the Senate, which was needed to move legislation forward without getting Republican support, would be gone when Brown took office.

In the wake of Brown's election to the Senate, Obama called on Congress to hold off on a final health-care reform vote until Brown was seated.

Obama correctly read the feelings of moderate (and conservative) voters. Moving forward on an important issue like health care without all elected senators involved would be seen as an end run around voters.

Obama conceded in his State of the Union speech Wednesday that health care has been a divisive issue. "By now it should be fairly obvious I didn't take on health care because it was good politics," he said.

But earlier this week, after the reality that the health-care reform effort would essentially have to start over again, Democratic congressional leaders pondered the possibility of using some legislative sleight-of-hand to salvage health-care reform before Brown takes office in mid-February.

"We've put so much effort into this, so much hard work, and we were so close to doing some significant things. Now we have to find the political path that brings us out. And it's not easy," said Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

The initial plan was to approve the Senate bill with some changes to accommodate House Democrats so the proposal would not have to come back to the Senate after Brown is seated.

Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar described that strategy as being as politically risky as it is bold. But polls show the public is deeply skeptical of the Democratic bills, he added, and Republicans would certainly accuse Democrats of ignoring voters' wishes.

Exactly. Brown was elected in part -- perhaps a large part -- because of concerns about the health-care package that was emerging. It was built on trading favors and political expediency. It was so tainted by the process that many were justifiably outraged.

Even the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress weren't exactly thrilled with the pending legislation, but it was seen as better than nothing.

Actually, nothing would be better than reform that has significant flaws.

Congress will never get a perfect piece of reform legislation approved, but it can -- and should -- work for something that will serve the entire nation.

It must be accepted, perhaps even embraced, by the majority of Americans whether they are Republicans, Democrats or independents.

Brown's election to the Senate, while obviously painful to the majority Democrats in the Senate, is an opportunity for Congress to start fresh in its effort to reform -- and improve -- health care in America.

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