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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jose Luis Magana)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jose Luis Magana)

Republicans' message to Obama: Start again Add to ...

Sweeping health-care change - at least the version that would force Americans to buy coverage - is dead, according to triumphant opponents of President Barack Obama's biggest first-year initiative.

The President pointedly turned his attention elsewhere, while leading Democrats admitted that a Hail Mary play to ram the legislation through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives lacks the votes needed.

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"This bill is dead," said John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives. "Maybe it's not quite as dead as I want it," he added, warning that White House efforts to resurrect health care with a stripped-down version of the bill were going nowhere. "Until it's dead and we begin a process to work in a bipartisan way, Republicans are not going to work off of this monstrosity."

Mr. Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, danced around the D-word. "I don't think that's what the [House]Speaker believes, and I don't think that's what the [Senate]Majority Leader believes. I don't think that's what millions of Americans believe. And it's not what the President believes."

Instead, Mr. Gibbs said "the President believes it is the right thing to do to let the dust settle."

But the prognosis from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill, was grim. "I don't see the votes for it at this time," she admitted, effectively scrapping a long-shot plan to get House Democrats to pass the quite different Senate version of the legislation.

The White House was insisting that Mr. Obama wasn't abandoning health-care reform - although the President made a speech yesterday that included no mention of it.

"We're not going to give up [the health-care reform]fight, because this is essential to the economic stability of middle-class families," said David Axelrod, one of his closest advisers.

But no Democrats would publicly point to a path forward, and jokes about the health of Mr. Obama's stricken health-care plan started to make the rounds.

"I don't know whether it's dead. But if it was in the sniffle stage before, it's in intensive care now," billionaire Warren Buffett said on an early-morning television show.

Republicans had a simple prescription: Start over.

The Democrats-only plan "and the process hopefully is dead. The process of buying votes through bribery and special deals behind closed doors should stop," said Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. "We are more than happy to sit down and start over - not scale back, but start over."

The hard choice facing Mr. Obama is whether he wants to risk a second health-care reform failure or, like former president Bill Clinton who promised but failed to deliver, opt to just abandon the effort and turn to something more popular.

Yesterday, the President was bashing bankers.

"Never again will the American taxpayer be held hostage by a bank that's too big to fail," he said, adding, "If these folks want a fight, it's a fight I'm ready to have."

There were no fighting words, however, for saving health-care reform.

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