Saturday, November 21, 2009

With 60 votes, the health care debate is set to begin

Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a yes for debating health reform, but a no for the public option, and she and fellow centrists are making clear they expect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to scrap his current plan for a government-run insurance program.

Lincoln (D-Ark.) announced Saturday that she'd deliver the deciding vote to push forward with a sweeping health reform plan, ending days of speculation over whether President Barack Obama's signature priority would proceed to the Senate floor or suffer a debilitating blow.

The vote is scheduled for 8:00 pm tonight.

Lincoln, Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and other "centrists" continue to oppose the public option that is included in Reid's bill, and, of course, there is still the likelihood of Democratic support for a Republican filibuster, mainly from Joe Lieberman ("D"-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), so there's a lot more to be done. What is likely, it would appear, is that either:

a) the public option will be removed from the bill in order to secure enough votes to override a filibuster; or

b) Reid will use reconciliation to move the bill to the floor for an up-or-down, simple-majority vote.

Either way, Republicans will continue to use every weapon at their disposal either to bring the debate to a halt or to kill reform altogether.

Landrieu, for her part, opined that "it is going to be very clear at some point very soon that there are not 60 votes for the current provision in the bill and that the leader and the leadership will have to make a decision, and I trust they will figure out how to do that." Well, true enough. There likely won't be 60 votes, and Reid will have to pick a) or b). But why should there need to be 60 votes? Why should such a super-majority be required to pass legislation? Only to overcome a procedural barrier, of course. If it were just a straight vote, up-or-down on the floor, Reid's bill would pass with a solid majority.

If I had to make a prediction now, it would be that Reid will water the bill down (perhaps by putting in a public option trigger), but it does not seem that, short of removing the public option, the centrists can be appeased.

Needless to say, I'm in a pessimistic mood.

For more, see Steve Benen.

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