Senate Leaders May Water Down Public Option for 60 Votes for Pro-Abortion Health Bill

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 9, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Leaders May Water Down Public Option for 60 Votes for Pro-Abortion Bill

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 9
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — Now that the Senate has rejected the Nelson amendment to remove the massive abortion funding from the government-run health care bill, Senate Leader Harry Reid is looking to shore up the 60 votes he needs to overcome a filibuster and pass the legislation.

Late Tuesday, Reid announced that Senate Democrats reached "a broad agreement" on watering down the public option enough to pick up the votes of some undecided moderate senators while retaining liberal lawmakers.

A group of 10 Senate Democrats, including five liberals and five moderates, have been working for days to find a substitute for the government-run public option that some lawmakers oppose.

The new substitute reportedly would create a non-profit plan operated by private insurers but administered by the Obama administration. It would include a trigger that would allow a public plan to kick in if private insurers did not come together to offer one.

The changes would eventually come by way of a manager’s amendment that would be the final amendment to the bill before a vote on cloture to stop the filibuster is taken.

Though the agreement was hailed as the final nail in the coffin to obtain 60 votes, some lawmakers say that may not be the case.

"I do not support proposals that would replace the public option in the bill with a purely private approach," pro-abortion Democrat Russ Feingold of Nevada said in response.

On the other side, Sen. Joe Lieberman released a statement saying he is not yet happy with the proposed compromise and that he still opposes any sort of public option.

But Sen. Mark Pryor, considered one of the moderates who could filibuster the bill, was more supportive, saying, "I think when people see this they’ll really like what we’ve done."

Still, laterint he day Wednesday, Sen. Mary Landrieu held a press conference saying, "There’s no specific compromise. There were discussions."

And Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat who joins Landrieu as a potential no vote, said sending the bill for more financial numbers was about all the 10 senators agree to do.

"We got to a point where we couldn’t go any further until we got scores," she said. "There are a lot of things on the table still and until, you know, we hear back from CBO it’s going to be hard to see whatever I can support, for sure."

And pro-life Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, who already said he would filibuster the bill because of the abortion funding, said after the vote to defeat his amendment that he is still unsure he can support the overall bill.

"It makes it harder to be supportive. We’ll see what happens," he told reporters. “We’ll have to see if they can make it easier.”

Nelson said Tuesday he can’t say where he stands on the overall bill.

“Until everything is settled and you’ve got a clear view of what changes might be made and what may be there, it’s hard to say,” Nelson said, still hoping to stop abortion funding somehow. “You can’t quantify in terms of percentages, whether I’m halfway there or things like that, because I’m continuing to try to work with the variety of issues with my colleagues to try to be at least a friend of the process.”

But he did tell The Hill that the loss of the abortion funding "could" cause him to oppose the bill.

“I don’t want to be stubborn and closed-minded [but] I have trouble imagining what [another compromise] would be, but there are other people with great imaginations and perhaps they’ll come up with something," he said.

Maine’s two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are considered potential supporters of the overall bill if Reid can water down the public option enough to earn their support. They are considered the only Republicans willing to support the pro-abortion bill.

On Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat, talked with The Hill about which of the senators they need to pick up — Nelson, Lieberman, Snowe or Collins — would be the hardest.

“I don’t think I can grade them. I can just tell you we need them all,” Durbin said. “The effort’s being made for all of them, and there’s still an outreach effort on the other side of the aisle.”

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