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Reid Fixated on Health Timing

Even though he doesn’t yet have an official cost estimate or promises of a filibuster-proof vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is confident he’ll be able to kick off debate on a massive health care reform measure before Thanksgiving.

Reid wanted to get the ball rolling on the overhaul early this week armed with a Congressional Budget Office analysis, but because that CBO score didn’t come on Friday as he had hoped, Democratic aides said the Majority Leader is prepared to push back his timeline. Reid may keep the Senate in session into the week of Thanksgiving in order to overcome one of the biggest hurdles facing the bill: producing the 60 votes needed to beat back a GOP filibuster that would prevent the bill from even being considered on the Senate floor.

Though a few moderate Democratic Senators such as Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) have yet to commit to supporting the start of the health care debate, Democratic aides said last week that they do not believe that any member of the 60-strong Democratic Conference will vote to prevent the full Senate from bringing the measure to the floor.

“We understand that there are people who have concerns about this bill. They’ll be able to address those concerns on the Senate floor, but the first step is starting debate,” one Senate Democratic leadership aide said. “While Senate Republicans might be OK with robbing the American people of that opportunity, we are confident Senate Democrats are not.”

Another senior Senate Democratic aide said fence-sitting Democrats just need something to point to before committing to vote down a filibuster of the motion to proceed. Reid cannot produce legislative language until he has the CBO score in hand, perhaps by Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Just eliminating the mystery of what’s in the bill will be enough to get these moderates to ‘yes’ on the motion to proceed,” the aide said.

The key vote, which Reid plans to call after he receives the CBO score, would be on a motion to limit debate — or invoke cloture — on a motion to proceed to the bill. The leadership aide said Reid is working under the presumption that he will have a CBO score “sooner rather than later” this week and that the Senate will be in a position to kick off debate before Members go home for Thanksgiving.

Reid wants to get the cloture vote on the motion to proceed over with before the holiday because he would like to spend all three weeks before Christmas amending and debating the health care bill. If he has to wait until after Thanksgiving to take the vote, the time-consuming procedural hoops he has to jump through could delay the start of the amendment process until the second week of December.

Because of the additional time the CBO needs to score the bill, it remains unclear whether Reid will heed the call of centrists such as Lincoln to wait 72 hours after the CBO score is unveiled to have a vote.

“Members will have time to digest this bill,” said the leadership aide, who declined to say whether that meant there would be a three-day review period.

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