Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) feels nearly certain that he will get the 60 votes needed to pass the first major procedural hurdle when it comes to getting health care reform enacted, leadership aides tell the Huffington Post.
A series of announcements by key centrist Democrats has all but paved the way for a health care reform bill with a public option to make it to the Senate floor for debate. Though, at this juncture, there is no set timeframe for Reid to actually bring a bill to the floor.
On Thursday, two key skeptical senators announced that they would not be joining a Republican filibuster on the first of two major votes on health care legislation. Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) both said that they would support an effort by Reid to bring his health care bill to the floor for it to be amended. Their announcements came just two days after another centrist senator, Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he would do the same.
By not voting with Republicans on a filibuster of the bill, the trio has all but guaranteed that legislation will be debated. "It is generally understood" that it will pass this first vote, said a leadership aide, who noted that there remained one conspicuous holdout: Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)
But there still is no guaranteeing that the public option (to which a state opt-out clause has been attached) or health care itself will survive after that first critical vote. Once the bill hits the floor and becomes amended, senators will have to vote to cut off debate. This too can be filibustered. And at this point, Lieberman has pledged to support Republican efforts to do just that unless the public plan is dropped from the bill -- leaving Reid with only 58 other caucusing Democrats. Neither Conrad nor Bayh has indicated how it will vote on the second procedural matter.
For the time being, aides and strategists stress that the most important thing is to keep the legislative process moving forward. There is, to be sure, deep concern that some centrist Democrats, in addition to Lieberman, will be with the party on the first procedural vote but not the latter, which would likely force Reid to either drop the bill or change it dramatically.
But for now, the goal seems oriented towards getting something to the floor and worrying about those problems later.
"You can't get to the second [vote] before you get to the first," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told the Huffington Post during Wednesday's press briefing.
When that first vote takes place, however, isn't entirely clear. Reid still has to get various parts of the bill scored by the Congressional Budget Office after which he and others will tinker with the language. The process, in short, could take a couple of weeks.
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