Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters on Tuesday that he believes health care reform has the votes to pass the Senate before Christmas after Democrats removed a provision to expand Medicare coverage.
"It is my understanding that, at this point it is going to be changed and removed," Durbin said the proposal to allow people between 55 and 64 to buy Medicare. "I think we are very close. We are still working with a few senators who have not made a commitment and until those commitments and votes are made we are going to keep working... Ultimately, we will pass it before Christmas."
The Illinois Democrat, speaking to reporters after a nearly full caucus meeting with President Obama, said he did not believe liberal members of the party would vote against the legislation, despite the absence of a public option or the Medicare buy-in provision.
"They are not happy," he acknowledged. "I'm not happy. I don't like the way this has progressed." But he stressed that there are enough important components in the bill to make passage vital. In particular, he cited bending the cost curve in the health care system, reducing the cost of health care premiums insuring more than 30 million currently uninsured people and strengthening the patient's bill of rights.
Asked by the Huffington Post to respond to former DNC Chairman Howard Dean's call for the bill to be "killed" -- replaced by something more progressive that could be passed through reconciliation -- Durbin replied:
"I disagree with Dr. Dean. I think if he would sit back and look at 31 million Americans who would have health insurance as a result of this bill. How do you say to them: 'Sorry you can't have health insurance. We think this bill can be better.'"
Pressed whether the changes made by Democrats to the legislation would gain the support of any moderate Republicans, he added: "I hope we will. It will be a great Christmas gift."