Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Democrats Vow Swift Passage of Obama’s Ambitious Agenda

February 26, 2009
Democrats Vow Swift Passage of Obama’s Ambitious Agenda

WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders pledged Wednesday to move quickly to enact the ambitious policy agenda outlined by President Obama in his speech before Congress on Tuesday night, with Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, saying he hoped to achieve a health care overhaul this year.

“By the end of this year, I want to do something significant dealing with health care,” Mr. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters as he and fellow Democrats hailed what they saw as a successful address by the new president.

In the aftermath of Mr. Obama’s first speech to a joint session, Mr. Reid and fellow members of the Democratic leadership also called on Republicans in Congress to join them in pursuing the president’s initiatives not only on health care but on energy, education and stabilizing the economy and housing markets.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, said Republicans cannot praise Mr. Obama, who retains a high level of popularity in the early days of his presidency, but then continue to attack his policy proposals.

“Our Republican colleagues have tried to act like they’re cheering for the quarterback, and then nitpick his play calling,” Mr. Schumer said. “Well, President Obama and his agenda are one and the same. You can’t separate the man from the agenda.”

In an interview on National Public Radio Wednesday morning, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House who helped engineer united party opposition to Mr. Obama’s economic stimulus plan, said his colleagues remain willing to work with the president on policy goals they share.

“That debate is behind us,” Mr. Cantor said of the stimulus fight. “We’ve got to go forward. We have to tackle these very difficult situations, starting with our banking system. We’ve got to get credit flowing again. The president was very definite in his commitment to make sure that happens, and I believe that we will have some ability to work together to produce results.”

Mr. Reid’s commitment to a health care overhaul this year could be considered ambitious, given the difficulty Congress has had in the past in taking on the complex issue of how to deliver affordable health care to most Americans combined with the partisanship that has gripped the House and Senate.

In addition, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is absent from Washington most of the time because he is receiving treatment for brain cancer.

But Mr. Reid said significant progress has been already been made in meetings among lawmakers and staff members, and he maintained that the schedule could be met.

“I think we’re doing quite well,” he said. “I’m satisfied with our progress on this.”

In the next few weeks, Mr. Reid said he would like to push forward with energy legislation, which has broad Democratic support, to clear the way for the climate change bill sought by the new administration. He also dismissed criticism that the federal government was engaged in a spending spree at a time when Mr. Obama was also talking about reducing the deficit during his term.

He said lawmakers “recognize that we’re going to have to spend some money to get out of this hole,” adding, “This isn’t the time to talk about balancing the budget.”

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