Sanders would support reconciliation to break Republican filibuster on health bill

A leading Senate Independent on Monday stressed he would support using reconciliation to break a filibuster and bring healthcare reform to a conclusive vote.

That affirmation, offered Monday night by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), slightly assauges Democratic leaders' concerns, but it leaves open the possibility that the Vermont lawmaker could still buck the majority party on a vote to end debate, complicating the healthcare bill's passage.

"I think the role that [Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)] is now attempting to play on healthcare is very, very unfortunate," Sanders told MSNBC in an interview, noting Lieberman's intended filibuster is precisely why he wanted his fellow Independent sanctioned last year for stumping with GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

"The American people overwhelmingly want a public option for a variety of reasons," he added. "Correctly, they want a choice between a private insurance company and a Medicare-type plan. And they should have that choice."

And when asked whether he would support reconciliation in the event Lieberman and other Democrats blocked consideration of the bill, Sanders said: "Absolutely. Look, the trick here is to do the best that we can for the American people.

"And that is quality, affordable healthcare for all of our people," he added. "If we can't do it because we don't get 60 votes, then there are other ways that we have to proceed. And I would strongly support those other ways."

Lawmakers and pundits throughout the healthcare debate have kept a watchful eye on Sanders, wondering how he might ultimately side on his chamber's proposed reform. While he has long supported the public option and offered some favorable, choice words for Senate Democrats' work, he has been noncommittal recently about whether he would lend his voice to a cloture motion.

Without Sanders' support, ending debate on the bill would be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible.

“All I’ll say for now is that I want the strongest public option possible in the bill,” Sanders told The Hill. “Beyond that, we’re going to have to look at what develops.”

Sanders never broached the subject of his cloture intentions on Monday, but his otherwise stated support for Democrats' healthcare bill is at least likely to calm some party leaders a little. They are also sure to take some solace in his qualified endorsement to use reconciliation, as well as his newly stated concern that abortion restrictions in the House version of the bill could doom healthcare reform writ large.

"It is hard to imagine that with a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, we would take a major step backward in a struggle that women have engaged in for decades," he said of Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) amendment, which sets strict rules on the public plan and abortion services. "So, it just seems to me inconceivable that that can remain in the bill."

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