By Jeffrey Young - 11/21/09 07:33 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has secured the vital 60th
vote he needs to advance healthcare reform legislation with the
announcement by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) that she will vote with
her party Saturday evening.
"Although I don't agree with everything in this bill, I have concluded that I believe that it is more important that we begin this debate to improve our nation's healthcare system for all Americans rather than just simply drop the issue and walk away. That is not what people sent us here to do," Lincoln said on the Senate floor. "I'm not afraid of that debate."
"I am optimistic and encouraged about the step we are preparing to take in the Senate to amend and craft a bill that will improve access to quality, affordable coverage options for the residents and businesses of my state who desperately need relief," Lincoln said. "We may not get this opportunity again in our lifetime."
Lincoln's vote Saturday evening will allow the debate to continue but it does not put to rest the vexing political questions Reid still faces if he hopes to shepherd the legislation to Obama's desk, however. "The vote tonight will mark the beginning of consideration of this bill by the full U.S. Senate, not the end," Lincoln said.
During her remarks, Lincoln declared emphatic opposition to a proposal seen as essential by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party: erecting a government-run public option insurance program.
"Let me be perfectly clear: I am opposed to a new government-administered healthcare plan as a part of comprehensive health insurance reform and I will not vote in favor of the proposal that has been introduced by Leader Reid as it is written," Lincoln said. "Rather than create an entirely new government-run health plan to compete with private insurers, I support health insurance reform that focuses on changing the rules of our existing employer-based, private health insurance system."
Earlier Saturday, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) also revealed she would vote for the motion to proceed to the legislation itself. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) announced his intention to vote for the procedural motion. Like Lincoln, both Landrieu and Nelson insisted that their votes on Saturday night do not indicate they will vote for the bill itself when the time comes.
The three centrist Democrats had withheld their support throughout the process and since Reid introduced the final version of the Senate's healthcare reform bill on Wednesday. Among the trio, Lincoln is in the most precarious position because she must stand for reelection next year in a state that favored Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Obama in last year's presidential contest.
Lincoln strongly contested the argument that her reticence about the legislation leading up to her Saturday announcement was based on her worry about retaining her seat and offered harsh words for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and for liberal groups that have bombarded her with critical advertisements throughout the year.
"I'm not thinking about my reelection, the legacy of a president or whether Democrats or Republicans are going to be able to claim victory in winning this debate," Lincoln said. "I will not allow my decision on this vote to be dictated by pressure from my political opponents nor the liberal interest groups outside Arkansas that threaten me with their money and their political opposition," she said, citing $3.3 million in ads airing in Arkansas this year by pressure groups.
This story was updated at 3:20 p.m.