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Obama to Abandon Bipartisan Health Reform

President Barack Obama is poised to abandon attempts to broker bipartisan health care reform and instead push through proposals using only the votes of Democrats.

by Toby Harnden

White House officials said they had been forced to take the step by Republicans amid an increasingly bitter debate over the plans.

US President Barack Obama speaks about newly sworn in Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington in this April 28, 2009 file photo. The Obama administration appears set on taking the politically dangerous route of painting Republicans as health care obstructionists despite polling showing widespread concern among Americans. (REUTERS/Jim Young/Files) The Obama administration appears set on taking the politically dangerous route of painting Republicans as health care obstructionists despite polling showing widespread concern among Americans.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, told The New York Times that the Republican leadership "has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama's health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day".

Republicans respond that they are simply opposing the trillion-dollar Democratic-drafted legislation and that the vocal public concern underlines the validity of their stance.

He campaigned on a promise of ushering in a new era of bipartisanship in Washington but since he entered the White House in January Mr Obama has struggled to win over Republicans.

Mr Obama's shift reflects the political reality that there is little prospect of agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the increasingly contentious issue of health care reform, which has triggered angry protests at public meetings across the country.

There are signs that any further movement to accommodate Republicans could lead to a split on the Left that would imperil reform. Recent moves to float the notion of abandoning an optional government-sponsored insurance plan have been met with fury on the Left, which is accusing Mr Obama of abandoning his principles.

After spending several weeks protesting that there was no plan for "death panels" to enforce euthanasia, the White House is again on the defensive, this time over the government insurance option. Over the summer, Mr Obama's personal popularity has plummeted, along with public support for health care reform.

Mr Obama's Democrats do, however, have the advantage of holding solid majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. The party's 60 to 40 advantage in the Senate, however, is offset by the absence of Robert Byrd of West Virginia, 91, and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, 77, who are both seriously ill and unable to vote. Democrats have to muster 60 votes to resist a Republican filibuster.

This means they need to woo at least two from a tiny band of moderate Republicans while at the same time preventing any conservative Democrats from defecting.

The White House is furious with Senator Chuck Grassley, who had been leading a small band of Republicans trying to broker a compromise bill, after he refused to reject wild claims that were "death panels" included in a draft bill on Capitol Hill.

Democrats have removed the controversial clause about voluntary consultations to discuss "end-of-life" care but the political damage had already been done.

The White House is now advocating the setting up of non-profit insurance co-operatives as an alternative to a public insurance plan.

Republicans, however, have rejected this as a sleight of hand. "It doesn't matter what you call it, they want to accompany something Republicans are going to support a trillion-dollar-bill.

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