WASHINGTON (AP) - 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
"If we cannot produce a bipartisan solution by then you have to wonder if the Republicans will ever to be willing to agree to anything," Schumer said.
Four House and Senate committees have already passed 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., scoffed at Schumer's complaints. He noted that Schumer himself hasn't committed to supporting whatever the Finance negotiators produce and that other Democrats have also criticized the plan
that's taking shape.
"Seriously. How can any Democrat who doesn't support what the bipartisan group of Finance members is working on complain about there not being a bipartisan approach
," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. "Has Senator Schumer or anyone in the Democrat leadership offered a bipartisan bill?"