WASHINGTON – After negotiating critical last-minute commitments, Senate Democratic leaders on Friday stood on the verge of achieving the necessary 60 votes to begin consideration of the most expansive health care legislation to go before the Senate in nearly half a century.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who was among three Democratic holdouts, announced that he would back an all-important procedural vote set for today that will allow the chamber to take up the wide-ranging bill unveiled this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Democratic leaders expect Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to support a cloture vote on the “motion to proceed,” although the two lawmakers have not formally announced their plans.
With the backing of those three senators, Democratic leaders are all but assured of clearing the procedural hurdle, a key step if Congress is to send President Barack Obama a health care bill by the end of January, as party leaders hope.
The Senate would start formal debate on Democrats’ top domestic priority when lawmakers come back from their Thanksgiving recess.
The House has already passed its version of health care legislation, which will ultimately have to be reconciled with the Senate bill.
The Senate measure, which would cost $848 billion over 10 years, is designed to eventually expand coverage to another 31 million Americans, while restraining federal deficits and taking steps to make the nation’s health care system more efficient and reliable for patients.
The measure is so politically charged that finding the votes even to take up debate on the legislation turned into a Capitol drama that dragged on for weeks.