Susie McMahan, left, and Pat Carlson argue about health-care overhaul efforts in Lincoln, Neb., on Monday.AP photo
WASHINGTON — Frustrated with the pace of bipartisan talks, Democratic leaders on Monday promised to push a sweeping health care bill through the Senate whether they get Republican support or not.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the third-ranking Senate Democrat, raised the prospect of the leadership crafting a bill to Democratic specifications and using a rare legislative procedure to expedite legislation fulfilling President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.
“We will have contingencies in place. These plans will likely be considered as a last resort, but they are on the table,” Schumer told reporters on a conference call. He declined to elaborate.
After numerous delays, three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are facing a Sept. 15 deadline to wrap up secretive talks and come up with a plan.
Four House and Senate committees have already approved sweeping health care bills, but none has attracted a single Republican vote. That makes it unlikely or impossible that they could attract the 60 votes necessary to advance in the 100-seat Senate.
Schumer said Democratic leaders continue to look at invoking a procedural maneuver that would allow them to pass the health bill with 51 instead of 60 votes. That route is viewed as a last resort since it limits what legislative measures would be allowed and any broad policy initiatives would probably have to be limited.
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted Schumer hasn’t committed to back anything the Finance negotiators produce and that other Democrats have criticized the plan.
Schumer and many other liberals favor a strong new government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers, and all the plans passed so far have included that. But Republicans nearly uniformly oppose a new public plan, saying it would drive private insurers out of business.