With no clear path forward on major health care legislation, Democratic leaders in Congress effectively slammed the brakes on President Obama’s top domestic priority on Tuesday, saying that they no longer felt pressure to move quickly on a health bill after eight months of setting deadlines and missing them.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, deflected questions about health care. “We’re not on health care now,” he said. “We’ve talked a lot about it in the past.” He added, “There is no rush,” and noted that Congress still had most of this year to work on the health bills passed in 2009 by the Senate and the House.
Mr. Reid said that he and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, were working to map out a way to complete a health care overhaul in coming months. “There are a number of options being discussed,” Mr. Reid said, emphasizing “procedural aspects” of the issue.
At the same time, two centrist Democratic senators who are up for re-election this year, Blanche L. Lincoln of Arkansas and Evan Bayh of Indiana, said that they would resist efforts to muscle through a health care bill using a parliamentary tactic called budget reconciliation, which seemed to be the simplest way to advance the measure.
The White House has said in recent days that it would support that approach.
Some Democrats said that they did not expect any action on health care legislation until late February at earliest, perhaps after Congress returns from a weeklong recess. But the Democrats stand to lose momentum, and every day closer to the November election that the issue remains unresolved may reduce the chances of passing a far-reaching bill.
The gear-shift by Democrats underscored how the health care effort had been derailed by the Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election last week, which effectively denied Democrats the 60th vote they need to be sure of overcoming a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Originally, Mr. Reid wanted to finish a bill early last August.
Considering all the time and political capital put into health care up to this point, there's nothing to show for it but a lot of significant frustration. I suspect this will only further demoralize President Obama's most ardent supporters.