Preferable, but not mandatory

PREFERABLE, BUT NOT MANDATORY…. Senate Democrats, by all appearances, would just love to have some Republicans on board with a health care reform proposal. But if the GOP remains opposed, will reform simply wither on the vine? Probably not.

Frustrated with the pace of bipartisan talks, Democratic leaders on Monday promised to push a sweeping health care bill through the Senate whether they get Republican support or not.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the third-ranking Senate Democrat, raised the prospect of the leadership crafting a bill to Democratic specifications and using a rare legislative procedure to expedite legislation fulfilling President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.

“We will have contingencies in place. These plans will likely be considered as a last resort, but they are on the table,” Schumer told reporters on a conference call. He declined to elaborate.

He added, “We’re going to cross that bridge if we come to it.”

It’s very likely that this is a negotiating move. It tells Republican senators who might be interested in a deal, “We’ll move forward with a liberal bill you’ll hate, so you might as well come talk to us before it’s too late.” It’s signals like these, coupled with the Sept. 15 deadline for Finance Committee talks, that give negotiations a sense of urgency.

And with that in mind, Schumer added, “If we cannot produce a bipartisan solution by then you have to wonder if the Republicans will ever be willing to agree to anything.”

On a related note, Senate Dems did something interesting this afternoon in relation to the Republicans working with Max Baucus in the Gang of Six discussions: they tried to separate them from the GOP leadership.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) drew a sharp contrast between the Finance Committee Republicans and the Senate GOP leadership, describing Grassley, Enzi and Snowe as “brave Republicans who want to see successful reform” and blaming their leaders for standing in the way.

“Every time we make a breakthrough, the Republican leadership cracks the whip and disrupts the process,” said Menendez, a Finance Committee member and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Senate Dems, the argument goes, aren’t prepared to ignore the work done by Grassley, Enzi, and Snowe — Grassley, Enzi, and Snowe are the victims of Republican leaders who don’t want health care reform.