Democrats could go it alone on health care, Udall says after Obama meeting

Senate Democrats could be ready to draft health care reform legislation without the help of Republicans, according to Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who spoke with reporters Thursday afternoon following a meeting Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet and 15 other Democratic senators held with President Barack Obama.

U.S. Sens Udall and Bennet
U.S. Sens Udall and Bennet

“At some point, after you’ve extended your hand for a number of months and it’s not reciprocated,” Udall said, “I think it is incumbent on us as the majority party, with responsibility to govern and solve problems, to act.”

The group of self-described centrist Democrats summoned to the White House the day after Obama’s congressional address on health care reform has virtually the same membership as a working group formed in March “to pursue moderate, mainstream and fiscally sustainable policies.”

Health care legislation will have to rein in spending and has the potential to make the country more competitive by draining less of the nation’s wealth, said Bennet, who also spoke with reporters on the brief conference call after the White House meeting.

“I am extremely confident that we are working toward a piece of legislation that, when it is passed, will be able to achieve those objectives,” he said.

The group of senators didn’t spend much time talking about the public option — a flash point for opponents of Democratic proposals and a sticking point for some conservative Democrats balking at Obama’s plan — even though there was a range of opinions in the room, Bennet said.

“There was very little discussion about it,” he said. “What united that group is the animating concern that health care reform is critical.”

Both Bennet and Udall have made clear they favor including a public option in the legislation.

Shortly after the White House meeting concluded, Udall’s campaign sent an e-mail to supporters reiterating his support for the public option.

“I support the President’s plan to include the public option as a tool [to] help reform our broken health care system,” Udall wrote. The e-mail included a link to contact other members of Congress with the message: “Urge them to pass health care reform, including a public option, today!”

In an e-mail sent to supporters after his speech, Obama singled out Bennet for attention in a postscript sent to Colorado recipients:

Since arriving in Congress, Senator Bennet has shown his commitment to real, sensible reform, working with me toward the same goals I outlined this evening — and I want to thank him for his leadership on this issue. He’s traveled all across the state of Colorado, holding town hall meetings in small towns and big cities, and he hasn’t stopped standing up for real health reform that will get our economy moving again and help to bring the deficit under control.

Bennet, who was appointed to the seat in January by Gov. Bill Ritter, likely faces a primary challenge from former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, in addition to a growing slate of Republicans vying for the chance to unseat him.

Both Colorado senators sounded notes of optimism that bipartisan health care reform legislation could emerge, but Udall said the group also acknowledged that “at some point it’s time to act,” adding that “the time to act is soon.”

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