Dems mull healthcare bill without GOP

A leading House Democrat on Monday said Democrats are prepared to pass healthcare reform without Republican support, echoing comments made over the weekend by a leading Senate Democrat.

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“I think that at some point everyone’s going to see that the Republicans simply are not going to agree to any kind of healthcare reform that the insurance industry isn’t supporting and that, reluctantly, we’re going to have to do it without them,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

“If we have to, we will,” said Schakowsky, a chief deputy whip and the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's healthcare task force.

On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Senate Democrats are formulating a game plan that includes passing healthcare on the backs of Democrats alone.

“At some point after we get back, if we don’t have a bipartisan bill, we’ll never be able to meet the goal of having a bill signed into law by the end of the year, so yes, we are considering alternatives,” Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Liberal groups around the country have been frustrated with efforts by some Senate Democrats to craft a bipartisan bill through negotiations among six members of the Senate Finance Committee. They’ve worried those discussions will needlessly water down a bill, and that the party that holds the White House and large majorities in the House and Senate should be able to pass healthcare on the strength of their own members.

The large House majority means Democrats could lose dozens of votes in the chamber and still pass a bill without Republicans' support, but the situation is much more complicated in the Senate. Democrats hold a filibuster-proof 60 votes in that chamber, but health issues have kept two Democrats away from the House for much of the year, and some centrist Democratic senators may not support a healthcare bill that includes a public insurance option.

Even in the House, it may be difficult to pull together the Democratic votes necessary to move a bill that includes a public health insurance option, something that Schakowsky said is the goal of House Democrats.

“I believe what the Speaker has said — that we will pass a bill, that it will have a public health insurance option in it — and I think that we will be able to abide by the timetable that was originally set out, which would be that by October the House will have passed a bill and hopefully the Senate will as well,” Schakowsky said.

Senate Democratic leaders are contemplating breaking up healthcare reform into smaller pieces in part to get bipartisan support for less controversial provisions and potentially build momentum for the heavier lifting. Doing so also could allow them to invoke special budget rules that would require only 51 votes to move more controversial provisions, such as the public health insurance option.  

Schakowsky’s comments came on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee that was designed to hit back against Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s Monday op-ed in The Washington Post, in which Steele wrote that seniors in particular would be hurt by the Democrats' healthcare reform plans.

Schakowsky called Steele’s op-ed “just simply riddled with lies, and we need to call him out on that.”

In announcing a “Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights,” Steele charged that the reform Democrats are backing would threaten Medicare and force seniors to accept worse and rationed healthcare. Steele also re-introduced the idea that a Democratic healthcare system would coldly dictate the type of end-of-life care seniors would receive.

“The Republicans are doing nothing but saying ‘no’ and spreading lies,” Schakowsky said. “Fear is their friend.”

The Democrats’ angry reaction to Steele’s op-ed further eroded hopes for a bipartisan healthcare bill, which began to fray at the beginning of the August recess when bipartisan talks among members of the Senate Finance Committee stalled.