Democrats woo Snowe, Collins in hope of saving health reform legislation

Centrist Democratic senators have circumvented party leadership to approach Maine GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsThe Memo: Trump faces enormous test with healthcare bill Overnight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes Overnight Tech: EU hits Google with record fine | Amazon gears up for lobbying battle | Facebook hits 2 billion users | New ransomware spreads across globe MORE about reviving healthcare talks.

Democrats such as Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Bill NelsonBill NelsonWeek ahead in tech: Lawmakers turn focus to self-driving cars Senate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix Driverless cars speed onto political agenda MORE (Fla.) and Max BaucusMax BaucusLawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda White House tax-reform push is ‘game changer,’ says ex-chairman MORE (Mont.) have approached Snowe within the past week to discuss her potential support for various healthcare proposals.

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“I know there have been efforts to contact her and find out what her concerns are,” said Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE, a centrist Democrat from Alaska.

Snowe said Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance panel, approached her in the past week to get her general thinking on reviving healthcare reform.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, has had several general discussions with Collins, who said she would consider supporting a scaled-down version of healthcare reform.

“I think that it would be possible for the White House to come together with the Republican leaders to draft a scaled-down bill and I hope that might happen,” Collins said.

President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaOvernight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes Why UK millennials voting for socialism could happen here, too Overnight Regulation: EPA moves to repeal Obama water rule | Labor chief to review overtime rule | Record fine for Google MORE and Democratic leaders, however, have made no attempt to reach out to the two centrist Republicans, despite spending months last year heavily courting Snowe.

Instead they have focused their attention on persuading the House to pass the Senate bill, along with a secondary measure that would address concerns House Democrats have with the Senate bill.

Under this plan, Senate Democrats would pass the second measure with House changes under special budgetary rules known as reconciliation, which would require only a simple majority.

But parliamentary experts say it would take several weeks to put together such a package.

The longer the Senate bill remains unpassed by the House, “the more it begins to stink like a dead fish,” said a strategist familiar with Democratic leadership discussions.

Skepticism over the likelihood of passing a second healthcare bill under reconciliation has prompted Democratic centrists to explore an alternative strategy that would rely on Republican support.

Lieberman predicted Tuesday that White House officials would soon contact Snowe, Collins and other Republicans.

“I have always felt that the best way to adopt a major reform like healthcare reform is bipartisan,” Lieberman told reporters.

“So I hope before any other strategies are followed — and I am encouraged to believe that this is true — that the White House and Democratic leadership will one more time reach out to the Republicans and see if they want to try and find common ground,” he added.

A senior GOP aide said that White House officials have yet to put out any feelers on healthcare to Republican leaders.

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Democratic centrists are not holding out much hope of convincing Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP senator: Dems should have been in healthcare process from start GOP senator under impression Trump doesn't have clear understanding of healthcare bill: report The Memo: Trump faces enormous test with healthcare bill MORE (Ky.) or Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) to sign on to a bipartisan agreement. But they have their eye on a handful of Republican lawmakers who have a history of breaking with their party.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillMcCaskill attended reception at Russian ambassador's residence in 2015 Senators question need for HHS cyber office Overnight Cybersecurity: Obama DHS chief defends Russian hack response | Trump huddles on grid security | Lawmakers warned about cyber threat to election systems MORE (D-Mo.) said Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Snowe “have a history of bucking their party.”

Democrats also put Collins, who voted last year to pass a $787 billion economic stimulus package, in that group.

Voinovich and Bond said they have not yet heard from their Democratic colleagues.

Snowe said Lincoln has talked to her about moving a proposal to create a nationwide insurance purchasing pool for small businesses and that Nelson has discussed other ideas.

Snowe, Collins and Bond have already signed on to a bill sponsored by Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate Senate Dems set principles for potential budget negotiation Dem senator: GOP's healthcare approach will 'devastate Medicaid' MORE (D-Ill.) that would establish an insurance pool for small businesses and the self-employed to offer a choice of private health plans.

Snowe said proposals to sell insurance across state lines and extend tax cuts to small businesses to help them provide healthcare coverage to their employees are two other proposals that could win bipartisan support.

But one of the most popular elements of healthcare reform, a ban on insurance companies discriminating against pre-existing medical conditions, would be difficult to include in a scaled-down package, Senate aides say.

Snowe has made it clear she will not support the 2,733-page healthcare bill that passed the Senate in September.

She said the only way for the White House to break the partisan stalemate is to reach out to her and Republican colleagues.

“If they really want to change the calculation, they have to reach out,” Snowe said.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseGraham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate Senate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference Judiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting MORE (D-R.I.) said it makes sense to pursue Republican support for a scaled-down version of healthcare reform but noted that many Democrats distrust the GOP’s willingness to negotiate in good faith.

“It never hurts to have an alternative strategy, but at this point it appears the message that Republicans are taking out of Massachusetts is: ‘Lies and obstruction work, so let’s do more of it,’ ” Whitehouse said.

Ben Geman contributed to this article.