Centrist Democrats split over reconciliation bill

Centrist Democratic senators split Monday over whether they would support a measure to make final changes to the healthcare law passed Sunday by the House.

Two centrist Democrats said they are inclined to vote for the budget reconciliation bill set to make its way through the Senate, while Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Monday he'd vote against the measure.

Nelson said he would vote against the package, which the Senate will take up under budget reconciliation rules, that would have the effect of removing the "Cornhusker Kickback," the $100 million in assistance to his state's Medicaid program.

Nelson said in a statement that while he was happy to support the original Senate health bill, he would "vote against the House reconciliation package of add-ons now before the Senate."

Two other centrist Democrats, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Evan Bayh of Indiana, said Monday they are leaning toward supporting the reconciliation bill. 

Landrieu, one of the last Democrats to support the original health reform bill last December, took heat for a provision in the bill that would send Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states millions in extra Medicaid funds.

"I'm going to be supporting it," Landrieu told The Hill.

Bayh, who is retiring, said he hasn't entirely made up his mind.

"I haven't decided, but I'm inclined to support it," Bayh said. "I'm a likely 'yes' vote."

By contrast, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said she would also oppose the reconciliation bill.

Nelson expressed concerns over the student loan reform bill that had been added to the reconciliation package, as well as new payroll taxes contained in the bill. 

“These and other alterations push the total cost of health reform up billions of dollars," Nelson said. 

The reconciliation package will be taken up by the Senate this week. Among the provisions in that package is the controversial assistance Nelson had secured for Nebraska before agreeing to vote for the original Senate bill in December. Nelson had said before that he was open to supporting reconciliation, if the underlying bill were good.

That provision, derided as the "Cornhusker Kickback," would be removed under the reconciliation bill, a removal which Nelson had said he would support.