By Jeffrey Young - 11/20/09 01:35 AM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidNearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate McCain files B amendment to boost defense spending MORE (D-Nev.) is not making any bold predictions before Saturday’s vote to proceed on healthcare reform.
“We’ll find out when the votes are taken,” he said when asked on Thursday about his chances of success.
Foremost among Reid’s problems are three centrist Democratic senators.
Sens. Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (D-La.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) have expressed several concerns, including doubts about the public option and the bill’s cost.
Others senators scrambled to clear their schedules for the weekend vote. For example, a handful of Democratic senators, including Sen. Roland Burris (Ill.), Michael BennetMichael BennetGOP Senate hopeful wants to go beyond Trump's Muslim ban Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill GOP ad calls Clinton 'a living history of scandal' MORE (Colo.), Tom UdallTom UdallHonor Frank Lautenberg by protecting our kids House, Senate roll out chemical safety compromise Overnight Energy: Lawmakers closing in on chemical safety deal MORE (N.M.), Jeffrey Merkley (Ore.) and Ron WydenRon WydenPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (Ore.), were scheduled to be on a codel over the next several days. Spokesmen for these senators declined comment or did not return phone calls at press time.
And then there is the potential absence of two other Democrats: Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), who has suffered from health problems this year, and Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusWyden unveils business tax proposal College endowments under scrutiny The chaotic fight for ObamaCare MORE (D-Mont.), an architect of the healthcare bill, who returned to his home state this week to attend to his ailing mother.
Reid must keep all 60 members of the Democratic Conference together for what would usually be a simple procedural vote. Failure on this first vote would have dire consequences for the entire healthcare reform effort.
Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln met throughout Thursday with each other and with Democratic leaders, Landrieu said.
Despite the uncertainty, Reid and other senior Democrats said they are confident their colleagues will not want to stand in the way of healthcare reform or be responsible for killing it.
But Reid may not have to wait until Saturday evening to know where the centrists stand, as Nelson and Landrieu both said they would make their positions known in advance.
“I’m not looking to delay it. As soon as I’ve gotten through the review, I’ll be ready to do something,” said Nelson.
“I will announce what I’m going to do after I finish reading the bill, but, honestly, it takes more than a few hours to read 2,000 pages,” Landrieu told reporters.
As representatives of states that favored Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump should apologize to heroic POWs McCain urges sports leagues to return 'paid patriotism' money Senators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels MORE (R-Ariz.) over President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaJohn Bolton slams Obama’s ‘shameful apology tour’ Miss. governor to join lawsuit against Obama transgender policy North Korea calls Obama’s Hiroshima trip ‘childish’ MORE in last year’s presidential contest, the three centrists face difficult political calculations, especially since Republicans have made it clear they will paint any vote on healthcare, even on procedural motions, as endorsements of the bill.
Lincoln is looking at a potentially difficult reelection campaign next year and cannot afford to alienate the centrist Democrats in her home state. Nelson is a perennial Republican target in Nebraska. And Landrieu, who won a competitive race last year, said she has to remain true to the diverse coalition that put her in office for three terms.
“I represent a broad constituency. I have people voting for me who are liberal Democrats, independents, conservative Democrats and some moderate Republicans.” Landrieu said.
Landrieu praised Reid’s attempt to win her support but said the job is not done. “It’s a very good effort by Harry Reid to move the bill in the right direction, but as I said, my concerns remain the same from the beginning of the debate,” she said.
The three centrists have also outlined concerns about the tax increases proposed, the effects on employers and a host of other matters.
Nelson also said Reid’s latest proposal to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used for abortion services is inadequate. “I think you need to have it eminently clear that no dollars that are federal tax dollars, directly or indirectly, are used to pay for abortions, and it needs to be totally clear. [It’s] not clear enough, I don’t think,” said Nelson.
Nelson has talked with other Democrats who oppose abortion rights about amending the bill, he said, without naming whom. During committee deliberations, Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyBob CaseyTen senators ask FCC to delay box plan Lawmakers blast poultry, meat industries over worker injuries GOP chairman sees funding deal soon on medical cures bill MORE Jr. (Pa.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) voted for stricter abortion-funding language.
On Wednesday, Nelson hinted he was gearing up to support the procedural motion Saturday. “It’s a motion to commence debate and an opportunity to make changes,” he said in a statement.
Nelson’s home-state colleague Sen. Mike JohannsMike JohannsTo buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington Republican senator vows to block nominees over ObamaCare co-ops Revisiting insurance regulatory reform in a post-crisis world MORE (R-Neb.) took an indirect shot at the Democrat’s argument Thursday.
“I don’t see how any pro-life senator would take that position,” Johanns said, without calling Nelson out by name. Saturday’s procedural vote is “the key vote for the pro-life community on this bill” because there are not 60 solidly anti-abortion-rights members of the Senate, he said
Beyond the Saturday vote, other Democratic senators indicated they are not solidly behind the bill, foreshadowing more problems down the road.
Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezDems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees Lobbying World This week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump MORE (D-N.J.) complained that the bill would exclude illegal immigrants from using their own money to buy health insurance, while Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWATCH LIVE: Trump holds Calif. rally after backing out of Sanders debate Sanders blasts Trump: 'What are you afraid of?' Tech firm offers M for Trump-Sanders debate MORE (I-Vt.) wants the bill’s government-run option strengthened and states to be permitted to establish single-payer healthcare systems.
Like abortion, immigration entered the healthcare debate as a flashpoint months ago and has not been resolved. Menendez said Thursday that he opposes provisions in the bill that would exclude illegal immigrants from the health insurance exchange.
“If they use their own money to purchase insurance without any taxpayer subsidy, it would make a lot of sense to offer that possibility,” Menendez said on ABC’s “Top Line” webcast.
Nevertheless, an aide told The Hill that Menendez does not plan to offer an immigration amendment on the Senate floor,
Jordan Fabian contributed to this article.