Bayh withholding decision on health bill filibuster

A key Democratic centrist said Wednesday he's withholding judgment on the Senate health bill until he's had a chance to read it.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) would not commit to either supporting or opposing a filibuster of the healthcare reform bill in the Senate, maintaining that he is waiting for an opportunity to pore through the actual written version of the legislation.

"I hope to vote for a good bill, but I won't know whether that's actually accomplished until I've actually read it," Bayh said during an appearance on CBS's "Washington Unplugged" webcast. "I'd like to vote for something, I'd like to move forward, but some of that's going to depend on is it fiscally responsible, what does it do for the premiums paid by average families and small families and individuals."

Bayh has been one of the most closely-watched Democratic members of the Senate in recent days as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has worked to wrangle together 60 votes to break a filibuster of his health bill, which includes a public option. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats, dealt that effort a blow on Tuesday by vowing to filibuster a bill including the provision.

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The Indiana centrist asserted he's "not as focused" as Senate colleagues on the public option, but would wait to evaluate the bill as a whole before deciding on whether or not to join fellow Democrats in voting to end a filibuster.

"If there are things that are in the bill that I think are just beyond the pale -- for example, that would really explode the deficit in the out years or dramatically increase the premiums that ordinary families are paying -- I just don't think that's even worth starting a discussion on," Bayh said. "If there are other things that frankly I think need to be improved, I'm not thrilled about but they're not just totally devastating, then at that point you let the debate go forward, you see how the amendments turn out, and then you make an intelligent decision about whether the final product is worth supporting."

Adding to his deliberation, Bayh, a longstanding budget hawk, said he has asked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to score different provisions in the Senate bill for its budget impact.

"So it really is one of those things, regrettably, where I just have to look and see what's in there and see if there are things I object to," the senator explained.

Bayh did praise Reid for adding some flexibility to the public option in the bill's "opt-out" clause, though he said the majority leader could do even better.

Bayh also argued it's "unlikely" that health reform would stall because of a few senators' opposition to the public option, reasoning that Senate leaders could always invoke budget reconciliation procedures, allowing them to sidestep filibuster rules, and pass a bill with a simple majority.

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