Democrats are refusing to give up a health-care reform fight some Republicans say is already lost. "If I have to change my Christmas Eve plans, so be it," said Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio.
Despite caution signs, some Democrats predicted Monday that a new bipartisan reform plan would lead to progress by week's end."This time last week people didn't give the crime bill a chance," said Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark. "No one is willing to give up and quit. There's too much at stake."
A series of meetings Monday culminated with Sens. John Chafee, R-R.I., and John Breaux, D-La., leaders of a self-styled bipartisan "mainstream" group, presenting their proposal in detail to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
Their relatively narrow blueprint aims to raise the level of insured Americans from 85 percent to 92 percent by 2002 through subsidies to low-income families. It would also try to reduce the deficit through Medicare savings and a cigarette-tax increase, and contain rising health costs with tax incentives.
Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Democrats were generally receptive to the moderate plan despite its limitations. He said sweeping reform "isn't going to happen. So the question is, what is realistic?"
He said he hoped the new plan "will lead to amendments and perhaps some movement in the process this week."
The mainstream group took blasts from the right as well as the left. Conservative Republicans said its plan did little to discourage health-care spending, and they tried to depict the whole reform drive as futile.
It was unclear how far leaders of the mainstream group were willing to go to accommodate critics.