SENATE HealthCare procedural vote set for Saturday
Wyden's controversial proposal, which Reid agreed to add to the bill, would open the exchange to about a million workers who could not afford the health plans offered by their employers, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Wyden believes that will help make health insurance more affordable, although critics in the business community say it could weaken the current employer-based system through which most Americans get their health coverage.
Underscoring how fraught the Democrats' search for votes has been, Assistant Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) was forced Friday morning to clarify a statement he made to reporters that suggested Lincoln had told Reid how she would vote.
Republicans seized on Durbin's comment, charging that Lincoln, who is up for reelection next year, had told Reid about her plans before she told her constituents in Arkansas.
"Let me be clear," Durbin said in the clarification, "Senator Lincoln has had a number of conversations with Sen. Reid about the health care reform legislation. She has asked important questions and there has been a positive and healthy give and take. But Sen. Lincoln has not yet signaled her intention as to how she will vote."
Republican lawmakers have also kept up a steady effort to make it more difficult for conservative Democrats to vote to open debate, casting the parliamentary move as a referendum on the healthcare bill itself.
"(This) vote is something we need to look at as a vote that's not some sort of … a procedural vote," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said on the Senate floor Friday. "It's a substantive vote on whether or not we're going to fundamentally change the way health care is delivered in this country."
Nelson firmly rejected that characterization.
"It is only to begin debate and an opportunity to make improvements," he said in a statement Friday. "If you don't like a bill, why block your own opportunity to amend it? … I won't slam the doors of the Senate in the face of Nebraskans now. They want the health care system fixed. The Senate owes them a full and open debate to try to do so."
Nelson has indicated unease about several key components of the legislation, including the creation of a new government insurance plan and restrictions on federal funding for abortion, which Nelson said he wants to see strengthened.
Demands like these - which figure to define the upcoming debate – will likely complicate Reid's attempt to pass the healthcare legislation even if he prevails on the procedural motion today.
The rules of the Senate will require Reid to cobble together 60 votes again to end debate on the healthcare bill and bring it up for a final vote, which he hopes to do before Christmas.
Several lawmakers who oppose the government insurance plan, including Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said they would not vote for a bill unless the "public option" provision is removed.
They may back an amendment during the upcoming debate that would create a so-called "trigger." Under such an arrangement, a government plan could only be created in parts of the country where commercial insurers did not meet benchmarks for quality and affordability.
Liberal lawmakers, meanwhile, plan to seek other changes, including more aid to low-income Americans to help them buy health insurance.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said that although he will support today's procedural vote, his support for a final bill is "not at all guaranteed."