Dem healthcare infighting intensifies

A House fight among Democrats on overhauling the nation’s healthcare system has spread to the Senate, where centrists and liberals are clashing over the direction the legislation should take.

Trouble is brewing now that a bipartisan group of senators — led by Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben Baucus2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer Steady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate MORE (D-Mont.) — has signaled it will exclude a government-run insurance option from the committee’s draft legislation that could be marked up next week.

Leaving it out would be a major step toward attracting Republican support for President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Energy: Dems ask Pruitt to justify first-class travel | Obama EPA chief says reg rollback won't stand | Ex-adviser expects Trump to eventually rejoin Paris accord Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand Ex-US ambassador: Mueller is the one who is tough on Russia MORE’s signature issue. But it also would alienate liberals, who say the effort is wasted without it and are preparing a barrage of amendments for the Finance markup.

The House legislation has divided Democrats in that chamber along similar lines and is built around a public option to be paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy, an idea that has almost no chance of winning GOP votes. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee this month voted along partisan lines to approve legislation with a public option at its core.

Infighting among House Democrats has led to an impasse at the Energy and Commerce Committee that is expected to prevent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) from meeting her deadline of completing work before the August recess.

And on Tuesday it prompted Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) to hint that more liberal members of the party should consider challenging centrist Blue Dogs in next year’s primaries.

Senators need 60 votes to advance the legislation and many say the burden of resolving the healthcare dispute in their chamber will rest with Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.), setting up arguably the most difficult decision of his career.

Reid, who has already moved the floor debate to the fall, said Tuesday that Senate Democrats will spend “many hours” in a series of meetings next week to seek some sort of consensus.

 “I have a responsibility to get a bill on the Senate floor that will get 60 votes, so we can proceed to it,” Reid said. “That’s my No. 1 responsibility.”

Baucus has infuriated members of his party by taking weeks to win over Republicans who may ultimately vote against the bill.

But Baucus indicated the six Finance Committee negotiators — himself, ranking member Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (R-Iowa), Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Republican Sens. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion Overnight Finance: Breaking down Trump's budget | White House finally releases infrastructure plan | Why it faces a tough road ahead | GOP, Dems feud over tax-cut aftermath | Markets rebound MORE (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — would soon arrive at an agreement that the full committee and the full Senate would adopt.

Instead of including the public option, the bipartisan group is considering federally founded, not-for-profit, member-owned healthcare cooperatives that would compete with traditional insurance companies. Conrad, who has pushed this compromise, said the co-ops would receive $6 billion in federal start-up money and enroll 12 million people.

“We are going to find a solution,” Baucus said after meeting with Democrats. “We’re going to find a bill, we’re going to pass a bill out of the committee which does lower costs, which reforms the insurance market, and which provides care for virtually all Americans and which gets 60 votes.”

But Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (D-W.Va.) said he was preparing “probably quite a few” amendments for the committee’s markup.

Reid gave Baucus some cover by refusing to rule out supporting the co-op compromise.

On Tuesday, Obama reiterated his support for the public option during an event held at the headquarters of the seniors’ lobby AARP. “I think that helps keep the insurance companies honest because now they have somebody to compete with,” he said.

But while Obama and his aides have trumpeted this support, they have not ruled out backing the compromise. “He knows what we’re doing,” Baucus said. “I talk to the president daily; our staffs talk to the White House daily.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration would “certainly take a look at” the co-op idea, but said it was “a little premature” to talk about reconciling the two conflicting bills.

Obama is “comfortable with the path this is going on,” Gibbs said.

Reid will have the August recess to meld the two bills. The delicate trick is to produce a final version that can win the support of most of the Democratic Conference without alienating the few Republicans who are expected to endorse the Finance version.

“There’s a reason this hasn’t been done yet, I’ll tell you that. It’s the hardest thing to do that I’ve ever done,” Conrad said.

Conrad said Reid and fellow Democrats “are going to have to  hew pretty closely” to what Republicans have agreed to in Finance Committee talks, or risk losing their support.

But some Democrats think Baucus and Conrad are wasting their time negotiating with Republicans. Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownLawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves Dem senator shares photo praising LeBron James after Laura Ingraham attacks Trump gets recommendation for steep curbs on imported steel, risking trade war MORE (D-Ohio), a member of the HELP Committee, suggested GOP senators are stringing the negotiations along in hopes of killing Democrats’ healthcare reform initiative.

“I think delay has been the Republicans’ friend,” said Brown. “That’s how these things are always defeated: delay, delay, delay, and then it’s too late.”

Even after Reid gets the bill out of his chamber, some expect the real work will begin when House and Senate negotiators hash out a final agreement in conference.

“This is inevitably a process of compromise,” said Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes Kerry2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states When it comes to Colombia, America is in a tough spot 36 people who could challenge Trump in 2020 MORE (D-Mass.), a member of the Finance Committee who supports the public option and is expected to offer amendments to Baucus’s draft. “The most important thing to me is to get a bill to the Senate floor and get a bill that passes the Senate to conference.”

House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) agreed with Kerry.

“They pass what they do, we pass what we can do and we go to conference,” Slaughter said.

Walter Alarkon and Mike Soraghan contributed to this article.