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Obama Presses Democrats on Health, Financial Reforms

President Barack Obama sought to rally Democratic lawmakers Wednesday after the loss of a crucial Senate seat, saying it must not weaken their resolve to pass healthcare and financial regulatory reforms.

President Barack Obama
Photo by: Pete Souza
President Barack Obama

"We've got to finish the job on health care. We've got to finish the job on financial regulatory reform," he told members of the Senate Democratic caucus in Washington, echoing similar comments he has made in the past week.

Obama did not elaborate on how Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, could overcome the loss of a key 60th Senate seat in an election in Massachusetts last month that has stalled his legislative agenda.

The S&P 500 index fell 0.7 percent, led by declines in healthcare and financial stocks, after Obama's comments.

"Those two are very policy-sensitive sectors," said Jeff Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial in Boston. "Once again Washington (is) bearing down on the market."

It was the first time Obama had spoken directly to members of the Democratic caucus since the Massachusetts defeat.

With polls showing many Americans unhappy with Obama's handling of the economy and suspicious of his plans to overhaul the $2.5 trillion healthcare system, Democrats face difficult mid-term congressional elections in November.

Many congressional Democrats are anxious to move past the healthcare debate and talk about job growth and fixing the economy because they fear the unpopularity of the healthcare bill could hurt them at the polls.

The healthcare bill is now on the backburner as Democrats search for a strategy on how to proceed after the loss of the Massachusetts seat cost them effective control of the Senate.

Learning Lessons

Obama sought to stiffen the resolve of the Democratic senators during a question and answer session in which he made clear he was not giving up on healthcare reform, his signature domestic policy on which he has expended much political capital in his first year in office.

"If anybody is searching for a lesson from Massachusetts, I promise you the answer is not to do nothing," Obama said. "The American people are out of patience with business as usual. They want us to start worrying less about keeping our jobs and worrying more about helping them keep their jobs."

Since the Massachusetts election, however, the White House has pivoted away from healthcare to focus more on job creation, mindful that the country's double-digit unemployment is a major concern for Americans.

Obama has said jobs will be his top priority in 2010.

"Our mission is far from accomplished, because while the worst of the storm has passed, far too many Americans are still hurting in its wake," he told the lawmakers.

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