WASHINGTON (CNN) - A key Democratic senator in health care reform negotiations said Sunday that his party lacks the votes to pass a bill through Congress on its own.
Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota told the ABC program "This Week" that the issue affecting every American and more than 15 percent of the U.S. economy requires broad support.
Asked if Democrats could push through a bill without Republican support, Conrad said: "It is not possible, and perhaps not desirable either."
Conrad is one of a handful of Senate Finance Committee members - Democrats and Republicans - negotiating a compromise bill that would be the first bipartisan health care proposal.
The Finance Committee version lacks a government-funded public insurance option favored by Democrats and included in a Democratic bill already passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that none of his fellow Republicans in the chamber supported the public insurance option.
Conrad has proposed an alternative to the public option that calls for health insurance cooperatives that could arrange collective coverage for members. He said such non-profit cooperatives would provide competition for private insurers while avoiding the Republican concern of government-funded programs monopolizing the health insurance market.
"There is an alternative that puts forth the best of both sides," Conrad said.
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina indicated such a compromise could appeal to his party.
"We can have a plan in a few weeks if the goal is not a government takeover," DeMint said on "This Week."
On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists a Democratic proposal that includes the public option will win approval from the full chamber, despite squabbling among House Democrats over the measure's cost.
In a pre-taped interview broadcast Sunday on "State of the Union," Pelosi said she would corral enough votes to move forward President Barack Obama's top domestic priority this year.
One of the squabbling House Democrats, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, agreed a House bill could pass this year, but he called for more specifics from Pelosi and Obama on how the proposal under debate in the House would work.
"We want a good bill to pass this year and I think that can happen," said Cooper, one of the 52 fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats who are questioning the cost of the House bill that so far has passed two committees.
The Blue Dogs have enough votes on a third committee - the Energy and Commerce panel - to prevent the bill from moving to the full House for a vote. They have so far squeezed one concession from Obama - creation of an independent body to recommend levels of Medicare reimbursement in coming years.
"I think that the American people want to take a closer look at this legislation," Cooper said on the CBS program "Face the Nation."
"They want to feel comfortable with it."
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted the House bill would cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years, and end up increasing the federal deficit by $239 billion in that period. Supporters of the bill contend the CBO analysis failed to factor in all spending cuts, such as reduced costs due to planned preventive care programs.
Cooper said the goal of any legislation should be to slow the current rate of health spending, which he said runs at 2.5 percent above inflation. Holding that increase to the rate of inflation would make health care more sustainable in the long run, he said.
"But there's resistance to that because a lot of the health care sector has gotten so fat and happy on the extra money, they don't know how to just live on an inflationary adjustment," Cooper said.
The House bill includes Democratic proposals for a public option, mandates for people to be insured and for employers to provide coverage, and an end to lack of coverage due to a pre-existing condition.
Republicans oppose a government-funded option and any requirement for employers to provide coverage. They also call for limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, which Democrats don't favor, along with a number of provisions
contained in the Democratic bills, including increased efficiency in Medicare and Medicaid and a focus on preventive health programs.
The House is scheduled to break for its August recess on July 31, with the Senate's planned break beginning Aug. 7.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said last week the chamber would not vote on health care before the upcoming recess to give the Finance Committee more time to work out its compromise plan.
Reid's announcement went against Obama's stated timetable for both the House and Senate to turn out bills before the August break. After Reid's statement, Obama said he would accept a delay so long as work toward passing a bill continued.
Pelosi has said she wants a House vote before the break, and House leaders have indicated the chamber could remain in session past the start of the scheduled recess to get the bill passed.
Once each chamber passes a bill, a conference committee will merge the two measures into a single proposal that must win approval from the legislators before going to Obama. The president wants a bill on his desk this year to take advantage of the momentum of his new administration and avoid the thornier political climate of mid-term congressional elections in 2010.