Democrats may duck health care foes in Senate

WASHINGTON Sun Aug 23, 2009 9:31pm EDT

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) (L) smiles with Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (C) after the Judiciary Committee voted to send the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the full senate for confirmation during a business meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 28, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) (L) smiles with Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (C) after the Judiciary Committee voted to send the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the full senate for confirmation during a business meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 28, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Democrats may sidestep Republican opposition to a sweeping healthcare overhaul by using Senate rules to pass some reform measures, a leading senator said on Sunday.

President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies have "bent over backward" but failed to reach a bipartisan compromise with Republicans, said Sen. Charles Schumer.

"We are considering alternatives," the New York Democrat said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The Senate requires 60 votes to pass measures but only a simple majority is often needed for budget matters under a process called "reconciliation."

Schumer said Democrats are considering whether to vote on some healthcare reform provisions under those terms in order to meet a self-imposed deadline for passing health reform.

"We prefer a bipartisan approach, he said. "At some point soon after we get back, if we don't have a bipartisan bill, we will never be able to meet the goal of having a bill signed into law by the end of the year."

Fellow Democrat Kent Conrad said the Senate should avoid such extraordinary measures, but lawmakers will have to compromise -- or quit.

"It can't be an endless conversation. At some point, you have to fish or cut bait," said Conrad, who is working on a bipartisan compromise on the Senate Finance Committee.

Democratic proposals in Congress for a government-run insurance option have sparked intense opposition from Republicans who argue it would unfairly compete with private plans and cripple the insurance industry. Overhauling the health system is Obama's domestic priority.

Conrad told CBS' "Face the Nation" reconciliation was a poor tool because it is wrapped up in cumbersome Senate rules.

"It's an option but it's not a very good one," he said.

Senate Republicans will likely cry foul if their Democratic colleagues go that route.

"The fact of the matter is, that if they use that, it would be an abuse of the process," Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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