SENATE HealthCare procedural vote set for Saturday
Senate Democrats Rounding Up Votes for Crucial Healthcare Test
November 20, 2009 Washington Bureau - NOAM N. LEVEY Reporting from Washington
Senate Democratic leaders, having negotiated critical last-minute commitments, Friday stood on the verge of achieving the 60 votes they need to begin consideration of the most expansive healthcare legislation to go before the Senate in nearly half a century.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who was among three Democratic holdouts, announced that he would back an all-important procedural vote set for Saturday that will allow the chamber to take up the wide-ranging bill unveiled this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
And Democratic leaders expect Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to support a cloture vote on the so-called "motion to proceed," although the two lawmakers have not formally announced their plans
With the backing of those three senators, Democratic leaders are all but assured of clearing the procedural hurdle, a key step if Congress is to send President Obama a healthcare bill by the end of January, as party leaders hope.
The Senate would start formal debate on Democrats' top domestic priority when lawmakers come back from their Thanksgiving recess on Nov. 30 – beginning with consideration of a series of proposed amendments from both sides of the aisle.
The House has already passed its version of healthcare legislation, which will ultimately have to be reconciled with the Senate bill.
The $848 billion Senate measure is designed to expand coverage to another 31 million Americans over the next decade, while restraining federal deficits and taking steps to make the nation's healthcare system more efficient and more reliable for patients.
It is funded by a politically delicate mix of cuts to the federal Medicare system and new taxes on healthcare industries, high-end "Cadillac" health plans and wealthy households.
The measure is so politically charged that finding the votes even to take up the legislation turned into a Capitol drama that dragged on for weeks.
With Republican lawmakers determined to filibuster every stage of the legislative process, all of the 58 Democratic senators and the two independents who caucus with them must hold together to move any healthcare legislation.
That has forced the majority leader, a veteran parliamentary strategist, to cut numerous side deals to satisfy the demands of individual lawmakers in his caucus.
Reid included language in his bill that would boost aid for Louisiana's Medicaid insurance program for the poor in a bid for Landrieu's support.
He slashed proposed new taxes on the medical device industry to ease the concerns of Democrats from states that are home to large device makers, such as Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh.
And Friday, Reid struck a deal with Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who has been pressing to allow more Americans to access new insurance exchanges where commercial insurers would compete to offer plans to consumers who do not get health benefits through work.