One option, still alive and stirring strong emotions, called for the House to quickly pass the Senate version of the broader bill — simply accepting it and therefore bypassing the Senate problem created by the loss of the Massachusetts seat to Republican Scott Brown. But that appeared to be losing favor.
"That’s a bitter pill for the House to swallow,” said the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois.
"Full speed ahead is off the table,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a moderate Democrat from North Dakota. "We are still very much in the exercise of drawing meaning from the public disquiet.”
Nevertheless, the quick approach remained on the table, despite some House members’ deep misgivings. In fact, administration officials were working behind the scenes on that idea, which would be the fastest and cleanest route to getting a bill to Obama, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe private talks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders were gauging support for the idea among liberals and moderates. The initial reaction was not encouraging.
"If you ran that Senate bill right now on the House floor, I’ll bet you would not get 100 votes for it,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.
It takes 218 votes to pass legislation. A majority of House Democrats oppose a tax on high-cost insurance plans in the Senate bill that unions see as a direct hit on their members. Stupak and other abortion opponents, backed by Catholic bishops, say the Senate bill falls short in restricting taxpayer dollars for abortion.
Trying to push the Senate bill through would be a desperate ploy seen as such by voters, said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama’s 2008 presidential rival. "If they try to jam it through the House, they’ll pay a very heavy price.”
As the day wore on, those urging moderation seemed to be winning the argument.
"We’re not going to rush into anything,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"We will wait until the new senator arrives.”