A key Senate Democrat indicated on Monday that the party may route around the slow-moving bipartisan efforts of the Senate Finance Committee and instead use parliamentary procedures to pass health care legislation with only 50 votes, meaning that not even all the Democrats to be on board.
Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), offered one of the clearest indications yet that Democratic leadership was entertaining use of the budgetary process known as reconciliation if a compromise bill doesn't emerge soon from the finance committee, where Chairman Max Baucus, (D-Mont.), continues to try to get his GOP colleagues on board.
"We hope we can strike a compromise with our Republican colleagues by September 15," Schumer said, referring to the deadline set by Baucus. "But if the Republicans are not able to produce an agreement, we do have contingencies in place.... Make no mistake about it, they remain on the table."
Asked later if he was referring to reconciliation, Schumer replied: "That is clearly one of the contingencies that we are looking at." His remarks were about as far as Democrats have gone in floating that possibility.
One of the key issues drawing out the committee's deliberations is whether to support a public option for insurance coverage or set up a series of co-ops. Schumer suggested that the divides between (and within) the parties may be too great to bridge.
Talk of using reconciliation may be more of a bluff than a plan. Democrats, after all, technically have 60 votes in the Senate - enough to cut off a Republican filibuster. Some members of the party have called for their colleagues to commit to cutting off such a filibuster even if they oppose the bill.