Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Negotiators Inch Closer

Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska) said a group of his fellow Democratic freshmen could introduce an amendment package on cost- containment as early as today. Begich has said the freshmen support could depend on the inclusion of the package, and the Alaska Democrat said Monday that he believes there’s a good chance the amendments will survive intact.

Also Monday, the debate began over Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb.) proposal to prohibit health care reform from making federal funds available to pay for abortions, with a vote possible this week. The controversial amendment, co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), is similar to language included in the House-passed health care bill that was sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

The Nebraska Democrat, a leading moderate, has said he will not vote to end debate on the Senate bill if it does not include Stupak-like language. Abortion rights-supporting Democrats opposed to Nelson’s amendment expect it to fail, although Reid would still have the option of including the proposal in a manager’s amendment.

According to one senior Democratic aide, Nelson’s amendment is unlikely to find its way into Reid’s manager’s amendment. But, this aide said, there could be “a compromise that tightens existing language without going as far as Stupak.”

One Democrat opposed to Nelson’s proposal, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.) said she would vote against any manager’s amendment that contains Stupak language. Mikulski, who otherwise described Democrats’ efforts as going “very well,” conceded that differences over abortion and the public option remain unresolved.

“We just have a few outstanding issues,” Mikulski said, adding that health care affordability also must be addressed. “We’re down to the basic core. But it’s ongoing conversations.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday afternoon introduced the latest in a series of Republican motion-to-recommit amendments to pull the health care reform package from the floor and send it back to the Finance Committee for a rewrite.

The amendment, almost certain to fail, is part of a broader GOP strategy to try to slow down the process and force the Democrats to vote against cuts to Medicare, the federal program that provides health care coverage to the elderly. Republicans are vowing to use every parliamentary tool at their disposal to try to trip up the Democrats and prevent or stall passage of what they believe is a bad bill.

But Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) appeared to concede Monday that his party stood little chance for success. Still, Republicans continue to make their case in public, believing strong opposition from the public might influence the Democrats — or at least Democratic moderates.

“We think this is a disaster in the making and we want to do everything we can to stop it and force them to get into a discussion about starting over and working with us,” Thune said. “But they have the votes that are necessary to pretty much defeat about anything that we try if they can hold their folks together. I think the problem they have is shoring up Democrats.”

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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