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Senate Liberals Dissed on Health Bill

Despite Sanders’ declaration, it remains to be seen whether any public option amendment can be written in a way that will allow it to pass with 51 votes. If provisions of the amendment do not meet strict reconciliation rules that require every piece to have a budgetary impact, the amendment might have to overcome a 60-vote point of order — a feat that is nearly impossible to achieve.

Liberals such as Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) have so far not declared their support for trying to shoehorn the issue into a reconciliation bill, but both have been vocal supporters of a public option as part of health care reform.

Most of the 16 Senate Democrats who have not declared their position on the issue are moderates, and even those who aren’t may be willing to vote against the amendment.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said leaders will ask their Members to defeat popular amendments even though they sympathize with liberals’ desire to push proposals that, during last year’s Senate floor debate, did not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Reconciliation rules require only a 51-vote majority to prevail.

“Certainly there are plenty of Members who have ideas to improve the bill,” Manley said. “The difference is ... Republicans will be offering amendments to take the bill down.”

While the public option vote is seen as the most difficult for Members to face, Manley acknowledged that other issues near and dear to liberals and centrists in the party could crop up.

Most Senate Democrats, sensitive to the difficulties they face in finally getting the health care reform package to President Barack Obama’s desk, played coy Wednesday when asked whether they were reserving the right to offer amendments to a reconciliation bill.

Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), both facing re-election in November, declined to rule out trying to change the reconciliation measure on the floor — at least until they’ve had a chance to review the final legislative language and a forthcoming Congressional Budget Office cost estimate.

Wyden has a keen interest in health care policy and has worked hard to influence the outcome of the final bill during much of the past year. But Boxer, an ardent proponent of abortion rights, could face a particular dilemma should the reconciliation bill arrive in the Senate saddled with strict language prohibiting federal funding of abortions. Boxer worked hard last year to keep strong language preventing federal funding of abortions out of the underlying $871 billion Senate bill.

However, anti-abortion-rights House Democrats unhappy with the abortion funding limitations in the Senate bill are now negotiating with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to insert more restrictive language into the reconciliation package.

Should such language survive the reconciliation bill that comes to the Senate floor, Boxer might have to weigh the abortion language with her leadership’s request for Democratic unity and quick approval. The California Senator said it is way too soon to speculate about how she might approach reconciliation. “That’s way ahead of where we are,” Boxer said. “First we’ve got to get it here.”

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