Udall sees opportunity for bipartisan ‘reset’ after speech

Colorado Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall said he shared in the willingness Pres. Obama expressed in his State of the Union address tonight to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to lift health care reform legislation over the last hurdles and make sure it passes into law. Udall told the Colorado Independent that he saw positive signs in the House chamber during the speech that suggested there is willingness on the part of Democrats and Republicans to work together.

<em>Mark Udall</em>
Mark Udall

“When the president spoke about the system being broken. The entire chamber stood up. That suggested to me there is willingness. I can tell you there are a lot of parallel-track talks underway.”

Udall said that the speech, brimming with reference to fiscal responsibility, also positioned health care reform more strongly as an urgent national economic matter, tied to future budget deficits and national productivity. Doing nothing, he said, was fiscally irresponsible.

“This is tied to our financial future. It’s tied to the GDP,” he said. “Thirty percent of our GDP is consumed by health care costs. Our closest competitor spends half of that. It’s not sustainable.”

Udall didn’t respond to mention of a proposal unveiled Tuesday by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis and Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree that seeks to pressure the Senate to revisit its version of the legislation in order to add a public health insurance option and then pass the bill through the process known as reconciliation. The legislation sent to the House by the Senate last year fails to please both conservative Democrats tied to anti-abortion restrictions on services and progressives tied to the public option. If health reform is to pass, according to Polis’s plan, the Senate needs to pick which bloc to woo, the progressive bloc or the conservative bloc.

Leaning on the budget reconciliation process would deal a blow to bipartisanship, but it would move the bill through a Senate in which the Democrats no longer have a super majority. Because reconciliation is meant only to cover proposals that impact the budget, abortion doesn’t fit. The public option does concern the budget, though, and Polis believes progressives in the House will pass legislation with a public option.

It’s bold strategizing by two first-year representatives, and in the hours before the State of the Union address, thirty members of Congress had signed onto a letter outlining the plan that Polis and Pingree sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid .

The Polis plan is clearly not one of the “parallel-track talks” Udall mentioned, or if it is, it’s even more bold strategy than it seems.

“I would hope we could hit the reset button and go to work,” Udall said minutes after the President concluded his speech. “Bipartisan, that’s just a fancy word for working together. We can do that. It will take a willing minority and Democrats reaching out a hand.”

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