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Obama concedes health reform may die in Congress

WASHINGTON - No, maybe he can't.

President Barack Obama, who insisted he would succeed where other presidents had failed, and fix the nation's health care system, now concedes the effort may die in Congress.

The president's newly conflicting signals could frustrate Democratic lawmakers who are hungry for guidance from the White House as they try to salvage the effort to extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and hold down spiraling medical costs.

Obama's comments Thursday night came hours after Republican Scott Brown was sworn in to replace the late Edward M. Kennedy, leaving Democrats without their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and Obama's signature health legislation with no clear path forward.

"I think it's very important for us to have a methodical, open process over the next several weeks, and then let's go ahead and make a decision," Obama said at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

"And it may be that . . . if Congress decides we're not going to do it, even after all the facts are laid out, all the options are clear, then the American people can make a judgment as to whether this Congress has done the right thing for them or not," the president said. "And that's how democracy works.

"There will be elections coming up, and they'll be able to make a determination and register their concerns."

Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) Friday said Obama is accepting political reality and retreating from his own health care reform effort.

"Finally, the president is acknowledging that Americans are strongly opposed to his health scheme," King said. "It's time for him to put his plan away once and for all and start over."

However, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) remains committed to passing health-care legislation.

Since the debate began, Israel said health care spending increased by $134 billion and health insurance companies have earned even more in new profits.

"It's time for Republicans and Democrats to stop the political finger-pointing and engage in a transparent process that will deliver results to the American people," Israel said through a spokeswoman, Lindsay Hamilton.

It was a major shift in tone on the issue that the "Yes we can" candidate campaigned on and then made the centerpiece of his domestic agenda last year.

In a speech to a joint session of Congress in September, Obama declared: "I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last."

Sweeping health legislation to extend medical coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans passed the House and Senate last year and was on the verge of completion - though there were still disagreements between the two houses - before Brown's upset victory last month in a special election in Massachusetts.

With Chau Lam

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