Preparing for Democratic 'no' votes in the Senate
Updated 6:00 p.m.
By Shailagh Murray
With the Senate preparing to launch a final round of health-care deliberations on Tuesday, Democratic leaders are assessing possible defections when a bill modifying the legislation now headed to President Obama reaches the floor this week.
The so-called "fixes" bill includes a series of changes to the massive package approved by the House late Sunday night. Obama is expected to sign the underlying legislation, aimed at creating near-universal health coverage, at a White House ceremony late Tuesday morning.
Because the fixes bill is protected by special budget reconciliation rules, it can't be filibustered. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is confident he has secured at least the 50 votes needed to pass it. The main challenge will be keeping the fixes bill intact, as Republicans plan to raise parliamentary objections to many of its provisions.
But there will be some Democratic "no" votes, and they will reveal something about each of the senators who cast them.
One confirmed Democratic defector is Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who announced Sunday she would oppose the fixes bill because it includes an unrelated overhaul of the student loan industry and relies on reconciliation, a process that limits debate, although it has been widely used by both parties.
Lincoln is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election in November, and her Senate colleagues had suspected she would find a reason to vote against the fixes. Like all Senate Democrats, she did vote for the underlying bill that is on the verge of becoming law.
Another is Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who announced his opposition late Monday. The conservative Democrat was Reid's final convert when the Senate bill squeaked through in December, but Nelson strongly opposes the student loan measure because it would harm a private lender based in his state. He also objects to a new Medicare tax on unearned income.
And yet Nelson also was eager to wipe out the pot of extra Medicaid funding for Nebraska included in the Senate bill to lure his vote, that has become known as the "Cornhusker Kickback." The fixes bill would eliminate the perk, and a "yes" would have allowed Nelson to claim that he helped to keep it off the books.
Other Democrats whose support is questionable include Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who opposes the underlying bill's deep cuts to the Medicare Advantage program. And both Democrats who represent Virginia, Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, are counted as undecideds on the fixes. One reason is the student loan provision, as the student loan giant Sallie Mae is headquartered in Reston, Va.
But Democratic aides said Warner and Webb also are taking into account their state's conservative leanings and the lukewarm support for health-care reform in most polls.
March 22, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
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