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Heath care bill could rest on Massachusetts Senate seat

President Barack Obama's prized health care bill is

President Barack Obama's prized health care bill is in jeopardy after Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat. Photo Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON - Democrats faced the unthinkable yesterday: losing their prized health care overhaul along with Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat, just as Kennedy's and President Barack Obama's goal seemed tantalizingly close to reality.

Obama and party leaders anxiously worked through fallback options - none good - for salvaging the president's top domestic initiative. At the same time, their eyes were on Massachusetts' special election.

>> PHOTOS: GOP scores key upset in Massachusetts

Republican state Sen. Scott Brown's victory over Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley deprives Democrats of the 60-vote Senate majority needed to pass health care over the so-far-unanimous opposition of Republicans.

It forces Obama and Democratic leaders to consider a series of wrenching shortcuts involving escalating political risk.

Significant differences between the House and Senate health care bills would have to be settled quickly by presidential fiat and Democratic lawmakers would have to move in virtual lockstep to enact them.

That could be too much to ask from rank-and-file Democrats demoralized by losing a seat held in an almost unbroken line by a Kennedy since 1953. Efforts to woo a Republican convert could increase. But with polls showing voters souring on health care overhaul - and GOP leaders certain to intensify their attack - the president could be abandoned by lawmakers of his own party.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged for the first time that Obama may have come up short in making his case for the sweeping legislation.

"I think we'd be the first to admit that we think there are a lot more benefits than people see and feel in these bills," Gibbs told reporters. "If that's a failing, I think that it's certainly a failing that I and others here at the White House take responsibility for, up to and including the president."

Democratic congressional leaders put on a show of resolve. In 1994, Democrats failed to act on President Bill Clinton's health care package and lost control of Congress.

"Whatever happens in Massachusetts, we will have quality, affordable health care for all Americans, and we will have it soon," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

But how to get it done? "I don't want to speculate," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said yesterday. "We are not there on making that decision."

The goal remains to get an agreement to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills, Hoyer insisted, and pass a final bill through the normal legislative process.

>> PHOTOS: GOP scores key upset in Massachusetts

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