Senate Dems look for healthcare unity in final week

The entire Senate Democratic Conference will hold a series of meetings this week on healthcare reform to bridge divides within their ranks that could derail legislation later this year. The House adjourned for the August recess on Friday.
Senate Democrats will focus on reform during the regularly scheduled caucus lunch on Tuesday and the Democratic Policy Committee lunch on Thursday. In addition, Senate 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 (D-Nev.) has scheduled a special caucus-wide healthcare meeting for Wednesday.
The leader needs to bring his colleagues together over the divisive question of whether to create a government-run health insurance program.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusOPINION | On Trump-Russia probe, don’t underestimate Sen. Chuck Grassley Lawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda MORE (D-Mont.) and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who are leading healthcare negotiations with Republicans, favor setting up membership-run cooperatives instead of a government plan to compete with private insurance companies.
But liberals such as Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownSenate Dems launch talkathon ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote GOP Senate candidate attacks Anti-Defamation League for ‘witchhunt' on far right Senate Banking leaders introduce flood insurance bill MORE (D-Ohio), a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, have said they would have difficulty supporting a reform package that did not include a government-run insurance option or something very similar.
Liberals and labor union officials say that the co-op alternative proposed by Conrad would not do enough to compete with private health insurance companies to bring down costs.
Reid must also quell growing frustration among liberal colleagues over the slow pace of talks between Democrats and Republicans on the Finance panel. While the HELP Committee passed its reform package in mid-July, the Finance Committee has announced that it will not produce a bill until September.
Talks between Democrats and Republicans on Finance will continue this week, but no deal is expected.
In the absence of floor action on healthcare reform, Reid will turn to the agriculture appropriations bill and has scheduled a vote to limit debate on the measure for Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to take up the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor.
Sotomayor is expected to win confirmation easily; at least six Republicans have pledged to vote for her, including Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate Dems launch talkathon ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote This week: ObamaCare repeal vote looms over Senate Senate panel rejects Trump funding cuts on Energy Department programs MORE (Tenn.). It is uncertain how much floor time the debate will consume.
Senate Republicans have proposed a four-day debate on the nominee and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump slams Sessions for ‘weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes’ The Memo: Trump frustrations grow as pressure rises Cruz denies he is being considered for attorney general MORE (Ala.) has called on every Republican senator to review Sotomayor’s record and speak at length on the floor.
Senate Democratric leaders, however, say that two days should be enough. At a press conference Wednesday, Reid said Republicans would be given the time they request but questioned the need to rehash her nomination after extensive hearings in the Judiciary Committee.
A conservative activist with Senate ties said that debate would begin on Tuesday morning and end Thursday evening.
That leaves little time for other bills.
Democratic leaders also hope to pass a measure to provide another $2 billion in funding to the popular cash-for-clunkers program, which the House approved by a 316-109 vote Friday.
The legislation is likely to face a rockier path in the Senate, where Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump: 'So great' McCain is returning for healthcare vote McConnell to pin down colleagues on healthcare McCain returning to Senate in time for health vote MORE (R-Ariz.) is leading an effort to block it.
Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillMattis rips Pentagon officials for M wasted on Afghanistan camouflage Pentagon to address M spent on untested Afghan camouflage: report Federal Election Commission must not shy away from Russia probe MORE (D-Mo.) has said she would oppose the measure: “We simply cannot afford any more taxpayer [money] to extend cash-for-clunkers.” And Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinOvernight Cybersecurity: Kushner says no collusion, improper contacts with Russia | House poised to vote on Russia sanctions | U.S., Japan to beef up cyber cooperation Feinstein calls for Sessions to appear in front of Senate Judiciary Committee This week: ObamaCare repeal vote looms over Senate MORE (D-Calif.) may press for higher mileage standards for cars and trucks purchased through the program.
Reid would also like to take up a tourism and travel promotion bill to help the struggling economy in Nevada, where unemployment has risen to 12 percent. Republicans blocked the bill when Reid brought it to the floor earlier in June.