Sebelius said the White House would be open to co-ops instead of a government-run public option, a sign Democrats want a compromise so they can declare a victory on the must-win showdown.

“I think there will be a competitor to private insurers,” she said. “That’s really the essential part, is you don’t turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition.”

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said co-ops might be a politically acceptable alternative as “a step away from the government takeover of the health care system” that the GOP has assailed.