February 3, 2010 / 7:26 PM / 8 years ago

Obama presses Democrats on health, financial reforms


* Healthcare, financial stocks fall on Obama’s comments

* Obama seeks to stiffen resolve of Democrats

* "Mission far from accomplished" (Updates with fresh market reaction)

By Ross Colvin

WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama pressed Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday to redouble their efforts to pass healthcare and financial regulatory reforms, telling them "our mission is far from accomplished."

"We’ve got to finish the job on healthcare. We’ve got to finish the job on financial regulatory reform," he told Senate Democrats in Washington.

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

The S&P 500 index fell after a two-day rally, as Obama’s comments weighed on financial and healthcare stocks.

"Political factors are definitely putting a cloud over the market again and is probably going to put a lid to a rally for a while, until we get some clarity on these reforms," said Scott Marcouiller, senior equity market strategist at Wells Fargo in St. Louis.

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

FOCUSING ON JOBS

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 difficulties in defending their majorities in Congress in November elections.

Many congressional Democrats are anxious to move past the healthcare debate and focus on job growth and fixing the economy, fearing the unpopularity of the healthcare bill may hurt them at the polls.

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

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

Obama referred to healthcare midway through his State of the Union speech last week, causing some supporters to worry that it was no longer a top priority.

"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.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Edward Krudy and Angela Moon in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)




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