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Moderate Democrats Staying In Line

But as Democratic centrists were gearing up last week to return to Capitol Hill after the holiday recess, they maintained their support for health care reform, as long as the bill doesn’t deviate substantially from the Senate bill. A couple of liberal Senators who had also threatened to oppose health care reform if it lacked a public insurance option are also holding steady, including Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The offices of Landrieu and Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb said their positions have not changed since December, when they voted for the Senate bill. Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who caucuses with the Democrats, also supports the bill, his office confirmed. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said in an interview last week that he remains on board.

Webb conceded Thursday during a local radio interview that he has several problems with the Senate’s health care bill, telling the program’s hosts: “I voted with the Republicans I think eight times — more than any other Democratic Senator except perhaps Ben Nelson.” Webb was referring to amendment votes.

Webb criticized his leadership for a negotiating process that he claims lacked transparency and was critical of the provisions in the House and Senate bills that call for cutting nearly $500 billion from Medicare over 10 years and eliminating the Medicare Advantage program popular with many seniors.

But despite his concerns, Webb expects to vote “yes” when the reconciled package hits the Senate floor — so long as it does not deviate too substantially from the legislation approved by the Senate. In practical terms, that means Webb and other Democratic moderates are ready to support a final bill that does not include a public insurance option, does not raise income taxes and stays close to the $900 billion cost ceiling laid out by Obama last September.

Nelson also is demanding that the Senate bill’s language allowing states to decide whether abortion procedures are eligible for insurance coverage not be weakened.

“The reality, when you’re up here is, when something’s in front of you, and if it’s 50.1 percent to the yes side, you pull the lever and vote ‘yes,’” Webb said.

Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) have not given any indication that they will withhold their support, although their offices declined repeated requests for comment.

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