POLITICS

Ben Nelson To Vote Yes Saturday: Two Dems Remain Uncommitted

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

And then there were two.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) announced Friday for the first time that he will vote to allow the Democratic health care reform bill to proceed to a debate on the Senate floor.

That leaves Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) as the lone holdouts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a vote on a "motion to proceed" -- actually, it's a vote to end a filibuster of the motion to proceed -- for late on Saturday night. He needs all 60 members of the Democratic caucus to vote yes, as every Republican has indicated that he -- or she -- will vote no.

Several weeks of floor debate and amendments will come next, followed by another vote to end a filibuster -- this one to move to a final vote. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has promised to vote with Reid on Saturday but wants to strip out the public health insurance option before offering to vote to end the final filibuster.

Lieberman believes that the government can not afford to set up a public health insurance option, even though it would not be federally subsidized and would in fact save the government money, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Connecticut is a stronghold of the insurance industry, which is a strong backer of Lieberman.

Nelson also opposes the public option and relies heavily on insurance industry money but said today he would let the debate move forward.

"For more than a year, Nebraskans and all Americans have debated health care reform in their homes, at work, and with friends at hundreds of town hall meetings. This weekend, I will vote for the motion to proceed to bring that debate onto the Senate floor. The Senate should start trying to fix a health care system that costs too much and delivers too little for Nebraskans," he said. "Throughout my Senate career I have consistently rejected efforts to obstruct. That's what the vote on the motion to proceed is all about."

But Nelson added that he would be willing to obstruct a final up-or-down vote on the bill if it wasn't to his satisfaction.

"[My vote] is not for or against the new Senate health care bill released Wednesday. It is only to begin debate and an opportunity to make improvements. If you don't like a bill why block your own opportunity to amend it? As we have seen before, obstructionists are inviting a move toward reconciliation by opposing this first procedural vote," he said. "Let's be clear. That route shrinks debate and amendments, eliminates bipartisanship and needs only 50 votes to pass a bill. In the end, far more Washington-run health care policies win, but Nebraskans lose. In my first reading, I support parts of the bill and oppose others I will work to fix. If that's not possible, I will oppose the second cloture motion--needing 60 votes--to end debate, and oppose the final bill. But I won't slam the doors of the Senate in the face of Nebraskans now. They want the health care system fixed. The Senate owes them a full and open debate to try to do so."

Landrieu previously told HuffPost she wasn't inclined to support a filibuster.

"I'm not right now inclined to support any filibuster," she said.

The refusal of the GOP to participate meaningfully in negotiations has soured her on joining them in a filibuster. "For the Republican Party to kind of step out of the game is very unfortunate," she said. "I'm not going to be joining people that don't want progress."

Lincoln, meanwhile, faces intense pressure at home. The day she'll be faced with the decision, her potential primary opponent will be hosting a free health care clinic in Little Rock for the uninsured.

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