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Senate Democratic moderates warned Tuesday that they may block passage of a massive health care overhaul this year if Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) insists on pushing reform legislation that contains a public insurance option.
Skeptical moderate Democrats are unlikely to block a motion to proceed to begin floor debate on Reids plan, sources say. But Reid could end up with a revolt on his hands once the amendment process is over, should the bill still include a public insurance option even one with an opt-out provision for the states.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who caucuses with the Democrats, threw down the gauntlet Tuesday, saying he would support a filibuster of the plan if in the end it includes a public insurance option of any kind. And centrist Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) were noncommittal, saying they need to see Reids bill before deciding on procedural votes.
Im very skeptical about what [Reid] outlined yesterday for a number of reasons not only because of the concern with the public option, Landrieu said. But I am going to continue to work for a principled compromise. And thats all Im going to say.
According to one aide to a moderate Democrat, the centrists are not blustering. This aide said the creation of a public insurance option is difficult for many moderate Senators to swallow.
We may be able to get on the bill and begin debate, the aide said. But we are going to have a big problem getting off the bill with a national opt-out. It doesnt work.
Not all Democratic moderates have drifted away from leadership, however. Nelson said he could vote for a bill that includes a public insurance option, with Bayh focusing much of his criticism of the legislation on its costs and its potential impact on the federal deficit.
Reids early problem appears to be a lack of specifics. The Majority Leader, who negotiated the final blueprint with the White House and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), has forwarded various proposals to the Congressional Budget Office to receive a cost estimate.
The final language of the bill wont be decided upon until after the CBO responds. And the Democratic Conference is unlikely to be presented with the legislations details until that process is concluded.
I do support the process. I think we need to keep this thing moving through the process, see how it develops over time, moderate Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said Tuesday. I havent committed to [supporting procedural votes] I wont really do that until I have a chance to actually see the bill. But my inclination is to support the process.
Pryor indicated he could support a public insurance option with an opt-out clause for the states. Conversely, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who could face a tough re-election battle next year, is signaling her opposition, and she has been noncommittal on whether she would vote with Democrats to end debate on the final measure and move to passage.
Reid unveiled the opt-out proposal on Monday, which he hoped would appease liberals but still allow Democratic moderates breathing room at home.