Monday, November 23, 2009

Let The Debate Begin

On Saturday, Senate Democrats held their 60-member caucus together, and were therefore successful on a cloture vote to allow consideration of health care legislation. The wavering Democrats whom I described here, all fell into line by that afternoon.

But it's nowhere near a done deal yet. Senate proceedings are expected to last at least through the month of December. And it seems unlikely that key votes on the legislation will repeat the absolute party-line nature of Saturday's procedural vote.

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a member of the Democratic caucus, who was reelected as an independent candidate, opposes the creation of "a government-run health insurance company — the so-called public option", according to a press release on his website.

Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, who was one of the last three from his party to agree to go along with the procedural vote, issued a statement reading in part:

In my first reading, I support parts of the bill and oppose others I will work to fix. If that's not possible, I will oppose the second cloture motion—needing 60 votes—to end debate, and oppose the final bill.

Another Democratic senator, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, the absolute last holdout over the weekend, says that she will "not help move the bill past the next stage if a government-run public option remains part of the legislation."

On the other side, Senator Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, was the only member of her party to vote in the Finance Committee for the Baucus bill, which would provide for a sort of public-option-lite, which Time magazine described as follows:

$6 billion in federal funding to states or groups of states to set up nonprofit, consumer-owned and -operated health-insurance cooperatives. These cooperatives would be unaffiliated with any government entity and would be self-insured — meaning cooperatives would collect premiums from members and pay out claims from those funds.

On Saturday, Snowe voted with her Republican colleagues against consideration of the bill sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid.

I expect most Republicans to vote against Reid's bill, regardless of how it might be amended. But Snowe, and her Republican colleague from Maine, Susan Collins, are mentioned as Republicans who might be convinced to support some version of the legislation.

Unless Reid is able to twist some Democratic arms very strongly, it seems as though the full-fledged public option is dead. But it could perhaps survive in some watered-down form.

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