A leading Senate Democrat said Monday his party is determined to push through a health care overhaul bill, President Barack Obama's top domestic issue, with or without support from opposition Republicans.
Republicans have made clear they aren't supporting the bill, which foretells of a rowdy Senate floor debate next month on legislation that would extend health care coverage to roughly 31 million Americans, crack down on insurance company practices that deny or dilute benefits and curtail the growth of spending on medical care nationally.
"We prefer to go at it with Republicans if we can reach compromises in some areas," said Sen. Charles Schumer. "But we're not going to not pass a bill."
Schumer dueled with Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on a television morning news show in the wake of a key Senate vote Saturday night that advanced a 10-year, $959 billion health bill to full debate. Hutchison argued that the overhaul would require higher taxes and expensive requirements on businesses that would weigh heavily in a recession.
Congressional Democrats are trying to resolve differences within their rank and file over abortion, taxes and letting the government sell health insurance as a competitor with private insurers. Those are all crucial policy questions, and House and Senate Democrats have taken conflicting approaches.
Obama campaigned on a promise to overhaul health care in the United States — the only developed country that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan. Nearly 50 million of the country's more than 300 million people are uninsured. The government provides coverage for the poor and elderly, but most Americans rely on private insurance, usually received through their employers.
Appearing on NBC's "Today" show Monday, Schumer said, "We all know we have to give a little. ... If we don't do anything, that is the worst situation, and we have a good bill." He said lawmakers must come together because "the health care system is broken."
Schumer argued that Republican critics "haven't put any alternative on the floor."
Hutchison called it "a terrible idea at this time."
The Democratic measures would leave 12 million or more eligible Americans uninsured. Many middle-class families who'd now be required to buy coverage would still find the premiums a stretch, even with government aid. A new federal fund to provide temporary coverage for people with health problems would quickly run out of cash.
The House passed its health care bill 220-215 earlier this month. The Senate cleared the way Saturday for debate on legislation unveiled by Majority Leader Harry Reid. The bill, a compromise between two committee-passed versions, could undergo significant changes as senators amend it during weeks of arduous debate ahead.
Both bills would require all Americans to carry health insurance, with government help to make premiums more affordable. They would ban insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more to people with health problems. They would set up new insurance markets for those who now have the hardest time finding and keeping coverage — self-employed people and small businesses. Americans insured through big employer plans would gain new consumer protections but wouldn't face major changes.