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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) won the battle Saturday night, but hes far from winning the war within his own caucus over health care reform.
Having practically moved heaven and earth to persuade all 60 members of the Senate Democratic Conference to support the notion of even having a health care debate, Reid now faces the thorny task of finding a way to get his $848 billion measure passed before Christmas.
We can see the finish line, but were not there, Reid said following the 60-39 vote to bring the bill to the floor on Saturday night. The road is a long stretch. ... We have the momentum to keep this process moving, I have no doubt about that.
Reid added that he is mindful that not all Democrats agree on the underlying substance of the bill, including over whether it should include a public insurance option to compete with private insurers. Weve got some things to work out, but were going to get a bill, he said.
Given the statements of wayward centrist Democrats, however, Reid may be understating what lies before him.
The Majority Leader needed 60 votes on Saturday to kill a Republican filibuster of the motion to proceed to the health care measure. If successful, the filibuster would have prevented the bill from being debated or amended on the Senate floor. Reid will face that same 60-vote threshold when he attempts to call a final vote on the bill.
In announcing their support last week to start the debate, moderate Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) warned they cannot be counted on to support the package as it stands. All three oppose the measures creation of a public option that states may opt out of, among other issues, and have indicated they may block future progress on the bill if the public option is not removed. Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) has also threatened to filibuster the measure over the public option.
Given that he appears to be four votes shy of the 60 needed to break another filibuster of the bill, Reid indicated Saturday night that a compromise might be needed, saying Landrieu plans to work with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) on a public option thats acceptable to all Democrats.
Landrieu said Saturday that she believes Democratic leaders are aware of the challenge they face in the coming weeks.
I would say that I believe its going to be very clear at some point very soon that there are not 60 votes for the current [public option] provision in the bill and that the leader and the leadership are going to have to make a decision, and I trust that they are going to figure out how to do that, Landrieu said.
Indeed, in the floor speech Lincoln gave announcing her support for the vote, she threatened to filibuster the final bill if it includes a public option.
Ive already alerted the leader, and Im promising my colleagues that Im prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government-run public option is included, said Lincoln, who faces a potentially difficult re-election next year.