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Page last updated at 22:16 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Obama tells Senate not to 'jam' through healthcare plan

President Barack Obama - photo 20 January
The defeat has come on Mr Obama's first anniversary in office

US President Barack Obama has warned Democrats not to "jam" healthcare reforms through the Senate after a Republican won a seat in Massachusetts.

Mr Obama told ABC News any vote should wait until Scott Brown had taken up his seat, and lawmakers should seek to "coalesce" around parts they agreed on.

Mr Brown will be Massachusetts' first Republican senator since 1972.

His victory means the Republicans now have enough votes in the Senate to block the Democrats' healthcare plans.

The BBC's Paul Adams, in Boston, says it is a humiliating defeat for the Democrats, entailing the loss of their filibuster-proof 60-40 supermajority, and a deeply unwelcome anniversary present for President Obama exactly one year after his inauguration.

I never said I was going to do everything I can to stop healthcare
Scott Brown
Massachusetts senator-elect

Our correspondent adds that it is one of the biggest political upsets in years - in a seat held for almost half a century by Edward Kennedy, a Democratic Party colossus, who died last year.

Senator-elect Brown, 50, told journalists his victory sent the message that "people are tired of business as usual in Washington politics", and vowed to get to work as soon as possible.

He said he would go to Washington on Thursday with the hope of taking up his seat.

Frustration

Earlier Mr Brown told NBC's Today show he did not think the vote was a referendum on President Obama's first year in power.

MARDELL'S AMERICA
Mark Mardell

After last night's beating at the hands of the people of Massachusetts President Obama is keeping his head down
Mark Mardell

And he denied he was intent on derailing the reforms.

"I never said I was going to do everything I can to stop healthcare," he said.

"I believe everybody should have healthcare, it's just a question of how we do it."

Asked for his assessment of the Republican victory a year after taking office, President Obama told ABC: "The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office."

"People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because what has happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years."

Scott Brown: "The main thing they want is good government back"

Mr Obama said he wanted to make clear that any plans by Democrats for a Senate vote on the reform plan before Mr Brown took his seat were "off the table".

"The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated," he added.

"The people of Massachusetts spoke. He has got to be part of that process."

The president said it was important for Americans to understand that core elements of the bill such as cost containment and insurance reform were vital.

"I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on," he said.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said after a meeting with colleagues that legislators would take a few days to look at their options.

"We're not going to rush into anything," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

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"There are many different things that we can do to move forward on healthcare, but we're not making any of those decisions now."

However, the Republican party chairman, Michael Steele, said Americans were breathing a "sigh of relief" over healthcare.

"People across the country are saying: 'Slow it down,'" he said, quoted by the Associated Press.

Dubbed Senator Beefcake in the US media, Mr Brown is a lawyer and former model who posed almost naked for Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1980s while in law school.

Correspondents say the vote does not bode well for the Democrats ahead of November's congressional elections.

The result comes amid opinion polls showing nearly half of Americans think President Obama is not delivering on his major campaign promises.

It was the third major loss for Democrats in state-wide elections since he became president: Republicans won governors' seats in Virginia and New Jersey in November.



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