WASHINGTON – Senate Democratic negotiators scrambled late Friday to lock down the 60 votes needed to move health care reform to a final vote, a process that must begin before midnight tonight for Majority Leader Harry Reid to meet his self-imposed Christmas deadline.
Much of Reid’s attention was focused on Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, the only member of his caucus viewed as a serious defection threat. Meanwhile, Republicans vowed to use every available procedural tactic to keep the debate from advancing.
Nelson told reporters late Friday that he remained dissatisfied with abortion-related language in the $848 billion bill. But he also is seeking changes to benefit his home state while easing the bill’s burden on factions of the health care industry, including home health care services and health-insurance providers.
“We’re working on a lot of things,” Nelson said during a break in the talks. “Whether we’ve decided anything or not, the answer is probably not.” Nelson left the Capitol on Friday night after 11 hours of talks and said negotiations would continue this morning.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a Senate leader helping to negotiate the bill, said of the Nelson effort: “Ben has a lot of things he’s concerned about.”
“He’s not for major apple-cart changes in any place; he’s just for specific things and they have to be talked through,” Schumer said.
Democratic leaders said they are cautiously optimistic that Nelson’s concerns could be resolved, allowing Reid to unveil a final bill today and begin the lengthy process of ending debate and holding a final vote, which could come at 7 p.m. Christmas Eve. But Nelson said he wouldn’t heed the clock. “I don’t have a deadline,” he said. “To me, you’ve got to get it right.”
To meet many of Nelson’s requests, Reid must find additional funds by trimming provisions in the bill or adding new revenue sources.
The abortion issue is more difficult, requiring a series of complex legal calculations, all fraught with political peril.
Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., who shares Nelson’s opposition to abortion, offered revised language that could become the foundation of a compromise, and Nelson said further changes had been offered Friday night to the Casey proposal in an effort to resolve his concerns.
But Nelson said he still had objections. “I haven’t seen language that’s acceptable yet,” Nelson said late Friday.