WASHINGTON - Chastened by the Democratic Senate loss in Massachusetts, President Barack Obama and congressional allies signaled Wednesday that they may try to scale back his sweeping health care overhaul in an effort to at least keep parts of it alive.
A less ambitious bill emerged as an alternative only hours after the loss of the party's crucial 60th Senate seat forced the Democrats to slow their drive to pass Obama's signature legislation despite fierce Republican opposition. The White House is still hoping the House can pass the Senate bill in a quick strike, but Democrats are now considering other options.
No decisions have been made, lawmakers said, but they laid out a new approach that could still include these provisions - among them limiting the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage to people with medical problems, allowing young adults to stay on their parents' policies, helping small businesses and low-income people pay premiums and changing Medicare to encourage payment for quality care instead of sheer volume of services.
The goal of trying to cover nearly all Americans would be put off further into the future.
Obama urged lawmakers not to try to jam a bill through, but scale the proposal down to what he called "those elements of the package that people agree on.
"We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people," Obama told ABC News. "We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don't then our budgets are going to blow up. And we know that small businesses are going to need help."
One potential Republican convert for health care legislation remained an enigma. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who has been in regular contact with Obama, roundly criticized the Democrats' hard push to pass their bill. But she would not rule out voting for something in the end.
Asked if the Democratic bills are dead, Snowe responded: "I never say anything is dead, but clearly I think they have to revisit the entire issue."
One option, still alive and stirring strong emotions, called for the House to quickly pass the Senate version of the broader bill - therefore bypassing the Senate problem created by the loss of the Massachusetts seat to Republican Scott Brown. But that appeared to be losing favor Wednesday.
"We're not going to rush into anything," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "We will wait until the new senator arrives."