Senate Democrats Report Progress, But No Deals, on Health Bill

Posted December 6, 2009 at 8:38pm

Democratic Senators negotiating a hybrid public insurance option intended to bridge the divide between liberals and moderates adjourned Sunday evening after three hours of talks with participants reporting that progress was made but much work remains.

The group of moderate and liberal Democrats, tasked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with developing an alternative to the public insurance option that is in the health care reform bill currently under consideration, is set to meet again on Monday.

“We have had a really intense three hours of discussion. And, we are not there yet by any stretch of the imagination. But we’re finding a good deal of give and take that leads to common ground,— Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters following the closed-door meeting, with Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) standing by his side.

“We’re still working, making a lot of progress,— Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) added as he left the meeting.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a leading moderate, indicated that Schumer’s pronouncements of emerging common ground might be a bit overstated, and said it was too early to tell if the talks would produce a plan he could support.

Nelson is one of the Democratic centrists who finds the public insurance option that is in the bill objectionable.

Nelson is proposing an amendment to Reid’s $848 billion reform package that would prohibit federal funds from being spent on abortion procedures. He said he now expects a vote on that measure Tuesday.

“My good friend Sen. Schumer’s always optimistic. And, probably there is some common ground. There’s certainly interest in trying to find significant common ground,— Nelson said. “It’s a tall challenge to try to reach that.—

Those Democrats participating in Sunday evening’s negotiations included Sens. Tom Carper (Del.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas. Senators were mum on the details of their meeting, and declined to predict when the talks might conclude.