McConnell: Dems have health bill votes, but Republicans won’t give up fight

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Finance: House rejects financial adviser rule; Obama rebukes Sanders on big banks Senators roll out changes to criminal justice bill Sanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll MORE (R-Ky.) on Saturday conceded the odds of successful passage of healthcare reform appears to favor Democrats, but promised Republicans will keep trying to block it.

Speaking at an afternoon press conference four hours before an 8 p.m. procedural vote that would bring the bill to the Senate floor, McConnell said Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSatanists balk at Cruz comparison Cory Booker is Clinton secret weapon Overnight Energy: Dems block energy spending bill for second day MORE (D-Nev.) appears to have the necessary 60 votes for the procedural motion — and that, based on Senate history, eventual passage is likely.

“Well over 95 percent of the time, I’m told, when we approve a motion to proceed to a bill, the bill is ultimately approved,” McConnell said. “Most of the time, when we proceed on the bill, the bill eventually passes.”

The Republican leader quickly denied his observation was an admission of defeat, promising stiff opposition up until the final vote in the near future.

“If 60 senators decide to go forward on the bill, then we’re obviously going to try to change it, through the amendment process,” he said. “There will be at some point, in late December or mid-January or whenever, an opportunity to have 60 votes again to see if 60 senators out of 100 want to terminate the process. The battle has just begun.”

McConnell said he made the observation to pressure Democrats who have been explaining that their procedural votes do not guarantee their final votes — and that if Democratic senators were serious about reform, they would first work to change the bill before beginning to debate it.

“The best opportunity to change the bill would be at the beginning,” he said. “Denying the majority leader the vote he needs to start the bill would have empowered any Democratic senator who is truly interested in making a change, whether the change was on abortion language, or on whether the government ought to go into the insurance business. The time of maximum leverage would have been prior to tonight’s vote.”

A handful of wavering Democrats announced their intention to vote for the bill Saturday, including Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Previous holdouts included Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who announced his support on Friday.

McConnell said based on his negotiations with Reid, he anticipated a “free-wheeling, wide-open” amendment process that would begin the week after Thanksgiving and last several weeks. Democrats and Republicans will alternate amendment proposals, he said, with most or all requiring a 60-vote threshold to pass.