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Dems vow health care bill with or without Republicans

Dems mull maneuver that would let Senate pass bill with 51 instead of 60 votes.

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.

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