Reid uncertain of tally as healthcare bill heads for rare Saturday vote

The Senate is headed for a rare Saturday vote to advance its major healthcare reform bill without a guarantee of success, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated Thursday.

At a rally with supporters of the healthcare reform bill, Reid would not say he had secured commitments from all 60 members of the Democratic Conference to vote for the legislation — an absolute necessity given unanimous opposition from the 40 Senate Republicans.

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"We'll find out when the votes are taken," Reid said. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), one of three Democratic holdouts, said Thursday that he would announce his intentions prior to the vote but also made clear he still has major misgivings about the legislation, particularly on issues such as federal funding for abortion and the creation of a government-run public optoin insurance program. Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) are also uncommitted.

Despite this uncertainty, Reid and other senior Democrats at the rally predicted they would prevail and enact a sweeping reform of the healthcare system, achieving a goal that has eluded presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton.

"I'm very confident that not only will the Democratic caucus unite around this bill but the American people will unite behind it, also," said Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa.). "We had the New Deal, we had the Fair Deal and this is a good deal for the American people."


Reid also put to rest any notion that the Senate would try to move the bill forward employing budget reconciliation rules that would allow it to pass with just 51 votes, a strategy Democrats had held in their back pockets and that liberal activists and lawmakers had demanded earlier this year. "I'm not using reconciliation," Reid said.

The healthcare reform bill Reid introduced Wednesday would spend $848 billion over 10 years to extend insurance coverage to 31 million more people, which would amount to a 94 percent coverage rate for all legal U.S. residents below retirement age. Including those over 65 and enrolled in Medicare, 98 percent of legal U.S. residents would have insurance coverage, Reid said.

Through a combination of more than $400 billion in Medicare spending cuts and more than $370 billion in new taxes, the bill also would reduce the federal budget deficit by $127 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.


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