POLITICS
03/21/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Weiner: House Leadership 'Whistling Past The Graveyard'

Scott Brown's Senate victory should not put health care reform on hold, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) told reporters after a caucus meeting Tuesday.

Speaking before polls closed in Massachusetts, Weiner said that if Democrats lose their 60-seat supermajority, one option for the House would be to pass the Senate bill unchanged and send it directly to the president.

"I don't think I could vote for the Senate bill and I don't think there are the votes in the House to pass the Senate bill," Weiner said.

During the caucus meeting, the chairmen of the three relevant committees that oversaw passage of the House version laid out in detail the negotiations going on with the White House and the Senate to come to a compromise.

"We're in full whistling-past-the-graveyard mode in there," he said. "They're talking about what our negotiations are with the White House. Well, yeah, and then the last line is, 'Pigs fly out of my ass' or something like that."

Weiner suggested that Democrats pivot to a jobs bill that includes some small elements of health care reform. Without a public health insurance option or expansion of Medicare, said Weiner, the bill had lost support among progressives, yet the middle didn't seem to like it either.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told reporters that he had spoken with Weiner and told him he disagreed with his analysis and that the House could still pass a bill. "We're not going to fail. We've got to succeed in getting health care reform for the American people," he said.

Some Democrats have proposed passing the Senate bill and then immediately passing a second bill that includes the compromises and using budget reconciliation - which requires only 51 votes in the Senate - to pass it. "We're going to have to look at the different options and come to some strategy," said Waxman.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), chairman of the Democratic caucus, also expressed confidence. "Every time we go up against a bump in the road, people say it can't be done, and then the House just turns around and does it," he said. "We'll still get a health care bill."

If House Democratic leadership has problems with progressives, it will pick up some votes from more conservative Democrats who prefer the Senate's scaled down version. Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), a Blue Dog who had been skeptical of the original House bill, said he was willing to pas the Senate bill. "I think it's important that we pass this legislation, I do," he said. "If [the Senate bill is] the only option in town, that's what we ought to do."

Democrats, meanwhile, leveled criticism as Coakley's campaign, which went dark for much of the election cycle. Weiner speculated that Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), who lost the Democratic primary, would have won by 15 points. It's still unclear how large Brown's margin of victory is.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) put all the blame on Coakley. "The big, profound message? Don't run a bad campaign. That's what I take from it," she said. "For me, it's that we have got to run strong, aggressive, clear-message campaigns. I tell you what I worry about, that the conventional wisdom will be that Democrats have to be less populist and less progressive. I think it's exactly the opposite of that."

Not enough health care polls distinguish reasons for opposition to the bill, she said. "I think a lot of people think it doesn't go far enough to really resolve their problems and they're worried that they still wouldn't be able to afford it or it still wouldn't provide for their health care needs," she said. "We need to identify who's been against change. People are frustrated because change hasn't come up enough. And against change are the insurance companies, the big banks and their spokespeople, who have been the Republicans in the Congress...We're going to absolutely move ahead with our agenda, unapologetically and as boldly as we can."

Ted Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), said that the voters were angry and casting a protest vote. They wanted a "whipping boy," he said.

"This is Massachusetts' seat. This isn't my dad's seat. And I didn't go up and campaign there because I didn't want people to think this is any kind of Kennedy seat. I'm from Rhode Island. My dad served that state as long as he did because that's what the voters wanted him to do, but he was prepared every election to face the voters and go up or down," said Kennedy.

Jeff Muskus contributed reporting