Partisan arguments and amendment votes on deck

The Senate may be staying in session this weekend to keep the healthcare ball rolling, but don’t expect any major developments.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), as promised, is keeping senators in Washington on Saturday and Sunday to continue the process of debating and amending healthcare reform legislation. Reid will most likely do the same thing the following two weekends — and possibly the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Unlike the Saturday session earlier this month that propelled the healthcare bill into its final stage, this weekend’s proceedings promise little more than partisan arguments and votes on relatively minor amendments.

Democrats remain deeply divided over two major issues: how to prevent federal money from being spent on abortion services and whether to create a government-run public option health insurance program.

Behind the scenes, Democrats will continue to hash out these discussions. Reid also said he tentatively planned to bring his entire caucus together for a meeting Sunday afternoon. Neither of the two biggest problems is likely to disappear over the weekend, however.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who has threatened to join a Republican filibuster of the entire healthcare bill if the abortion restrictions are not strengthened, said Friday he was not ready to introduce an amendment.

Talks continued among centrist Democrats, and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), on devising a form of the public option with which they can live, and among liberal Democrats demanding a strong public option remain in the bill.

Despite these conversations, the two sides did not appear on the verge of a deal Friday. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a strong supporter of the public option, expressed frustration that he and more than 50 Democrats who share his position are being asked to compromise to accommodate a handful of centrists.

Brown also suggested that the White House is not doing enough to resolve the dispute and that President Barack Obama should get directly involved. “I think the president needs to weigh in. I think that would make it a lot easier,” Brown said.

Lingering issues aside, the Senate will continue its work on the healthcare bill this weekend, holding votes on amendments offered by Democrats and Republicans alike.

When the Senate meets Saturday at 10 a.m., debate will commence on an amendment sponsored by Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) to limit compensation for health insurance executives and an unspecified Republican amendment; votes are slated for about 2:30 p.m. Further amendments will be debated Sunday starting around noon, with votes scheduled for around 6 p.m.

This plan is tentative, however. Though Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not object to Reid’s proposal, Republicans retain the right to delay the votes. As of Friday afternoon, a Republican leadership aide said the minority party had not determined which of its many amendments to bring to the floor Saturday and Sunday.

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