Obama vents frustration at Senate delays

AP News
Posted: Dec 23, 2009 9:48 PM

President Barack Obama on Wednesday expressed frustration with the way the Senate does business, saying the use of delaying tactics there harms the nation's ability to "deal with big problems in a very competitive world."

"Other countries are going to start running circles around us," Obama said in a White House interview with PBS. "We're going to have to return to some sense that governance is more important than politics inside the Senate."

Obama's critique of his former Senate colleagues came just as his allies there were on the cusp of giving him what he wants: passage of a Senate health care bill.

The bare-minimum bloc of 60 senators _ all 58 Democrats and two independents _ voted to end a GOP filibuster and move toward final passage Thursday.

Obama said the use of that vote-stalling tactic, which requires 60 votes to cut off debate, has been imposed in an "unheard of" routine fashion. He said it's problematic regardless of which party controls the White House and Congress, but conceded that, as president, he doesn't have much power to do anything about it.

As for the health care bill, the version the Senate is expected to pass must still be reconciled with a House-passed measure.

Obama pledged to take a hands-on role in reconciling the two.

"We hope to have a whole bunch of folks over here in the West Wing, and I'll be rolling up my sleeves and spending some time before the full Congress even gets back into session, because the American people need it now," he said.

Congress is expected to pick up the process in January after a holiday break.

The president sought to shift the focus from how the bills differ _ on such areas as financing and abortion restrictions _ to how they are similar.

"I'm getting 95 percent of what I want," Obama said. "Now, I might not be getting 95 percent of what some other folks want."

Obama has faced heat from the left side of his own Democratic Party because, among other items, the Senate bill does not include a so-called public option in which a government-run health care plan would be a choice for consumers. The House version does have it.

Obama said he would sign a final bill even if does not include the public option. He said he disagrees with those who want to "dump all these other extraordinary reforms" because the bill doesn't include that provision. "I don't think that makes sense," he said.

The House bill calls for taxing richer Americans to pay for covering the uninsured, while the Senate version would tax some of the costlier employer-provided health benefit plans. In a separate interview with National Public Radio, Obama predicted that the final bill will end up incorporating "a little bit of both."

Obama's interviews were with PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and NPR's "All Things Considered."