An influential centrist Senate Democrat said Friday he would vote to move forward with health-overhaul legislation, raising expectations that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will secure the 60 votes needed to thwart Republican efforts to stall the bill.
Ending weeks of uncertainty, Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) said supporting the Republican filibuster -- which threatens to block Democrats from opening debate -- would deny voters in his state a voice on the issue. "I won't slam the door of the Senate in the face of Nebraskans," he said. "The Senate owes them a full and open debate."
The senator also secured one of several favors that Democratic leaders doled out to win over waverers: He persuaded them to keep out a provision that would repeal the insurance industry's antitrust exemption, congressional aides said.
Not long after Mr. Nelson's announcement, another Democrat whose backing had been in question, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, said he, too, would support moving forward. Mr. Wyden Friday secured a commitment from Mr. Reid to support a $4 billion amendment designed to give workers greater flexibility to purchase health insurance outside the workplace. Mr. Wyden said the proposal represented a "modest step" forward and was "my price" for supporting moving ahead.
A Landrieu spokeswoman said the senator was undecided. Even before Mr. Reid unveiled the 2,074-page measure this week, he made a strong play for the support of Ms. Landrieu, a centrist Democrat, adding a provision that would steer an estimated $200 million to $250 million in Medicaid funds to her state in fiscal 2011, congressional aides said.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Lincoln, who faces a tough re-election battle next year, said she was still reviewing the bill. Polls show the White House-backed bill is unpopular in Arkansas. Democrats say states such as Arkansas, where many people lack health insurance, will benefit from the bill because it includes government subsidies to help lower- and middle-income families buy coverage. Republicans say the government can't afford such steps.
I predict the vote will be exactly 60-40 tomorrow night. The two remaining senators are simply holding out for more ransom money.