Dem leaders defend timeline for healthcare, Sotomayor

Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday backed off only slightly on their legislative agenda, vowing to push ahead on healthcare reform and urging patience if a final vote isn’t possible before the August recess.

Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidConservative Senate candidate calls on GOP to end filibuster Ex-Reid aide: McConnell's 'original sin' was casting ObamaCare as 'partisan, socialist takeover' GOP faces growing demographic nightmare in West MORE (Nev.), Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenate Dem: We’re trying to block a recess appointment to replace Sessions Senate Dems launch talkathon ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Top Dem: Trump’s voter fraud commission will accomplish what Putin wants MORE (Ill.), Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles SchumerCharles SchumerCongress can send a powerful message by passing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act OPINION | Dems' ‘new’ agenda? A recycled copy of Trump’s playbook Trump: Why aren't 'beleaguered AG,' investigators looking at Hillary Clinton? MORE (N.Y.) and Conference Secretary Patty MurrayPatty MurrayLive coverage: Senate begins debate on ObamaCare repeal Report: minimum wage bill would benefit 20.7 million workers in 21 states Lawmakers send McCain well wishes after cancer diagnosis MORE (Wash.) all blamed Republican intransigence for the slowing pace of their agenda, suggesting the GOP is more interested in playing politics than crafting policy.

Under pressure from President Obama to produce a post-conference healthcare bill by mid-October, House and Senate Democratic leaders have consistently predicted a final vote on their respective chambers' versions before the congressional recess that starts on Aug. 7. Under that schedule, conference negotiations would occur in September with a final vote in early to mid-October.

Asked Thursday about that schedule, Reid appeared to concede that healthcare, the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and the appropriations process may take more time. The majority leader denied he had set any arbitrary deadlines.

“I don’t know how much we’re going to get done, but we’ll get a lot done in light of the obstructionism,” Reid said. “We are hopefully going to move to a couple of appropriations bills before we leave here, we’re going to do Sotomayor for certain, and we have other things we need to do including movement on healthcare ... We have big things left to do with healthcare, but we’re not trying to ram things through.”

Reid said he was confident that the final healthcare package would have at least 60 votes, given that “four or five” Republicans on the Finance Committee have been helpful on healthcare reform, and assuming that Democrat Al FrankenAl FrankenAT&T discussing merger conditions with DOJ: report Franken: Trump Jr., Manafort need to testify under oath Trump's DOJ gears up for crackdown on marijuana MORE is eventually confirmed in the Minnesota Senate race.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is acting as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in the absence of chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), also denied Thursday that the schedule for a final healthcare vote could slip into September. Dodd noted that Democratic leaders earlier this year did not foresee the confirmation hearings of Sotomayor.

“You’ve got to set an agenda, and there’s always elements like Sotomayor,” Dodd said. “We’ve got to deal with that. It wasn’t anticipated when the agenda was first set. I think we’ll be OK. It may slip a little bit, but we’ll stay on track.”

Durbin gave a flat “no” when asked if there was any possibility that Sotomayor’s final confirmation vote could slip into September.

Asked Thursday about strengthening federal regulation of oil-price speculation in case gas prices spike this summer, Reid also blamed Republican opposition for the Senate's past failures to pass such regulation and indicated the chamber may soon try again.

"Of course they're being manipulated," Reid said of oil prices. "We can see that with what's happening in the marketplace today. We have huge inventories of gasoline, and we have people out there betting on what the price is going to be on it. We ought to take a look at it."