By Walter Alarkon - 12/05/09 05:44 PM EST
President Barack Obama will meet with Senate Democrats on Sunday afternoon
as party divisions over the healthcare reform bill have intensified.
Obama will attend a Senate Democratic caucus at 2 p.m. on Capitol Hill, according to a White House official. Divisions among the Democrats have increased over the last week over abortion language in the bill and the inclusion of a new public insurance plan.
Republicans have voiced support for the abortion restrictions but most Democrats are expected to oppose them. Republicans control only 40 seats, which means Nelson would have to pick up the support of at least 19 Democrats (or 18 plus one of two independents), an unlikely scenario given strong opposition from the Democratic base.
Obama will face a Democratic conference divided also over the public insurance plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has included a government-run insurance plan in the Senate bill. It includes an "opt-out" clause allowing individual states to decline the public option for their residents.
But centrist Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said they oppose any form of a public plan, leaving Reid short of the 60-vote threshold he needs.
Democratic senators have been holding meetings with Reid in his office since Friday to try to close those differences. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said that the meetings involve 10 senators, "five moderates and five progressives." Those spotted heading into the room include Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Tom Carper (Del.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Nelson, Lincoln and Rockefeller.
"We had the generalities a couple days ago, now we're getting into some brass tacks, and I think it's moving," Feingold told reporters after emerging from one closed-door session Saturday morning.
But other liberal senators signaled they're willing to fight any attempts that would remove or further water-down the public option.
"It's been slowly moving more toward insurance company interests in the last four months, and those days are done," Brown said.
Brown repeated his call Saturday for Obama to get more involved in talks.
"It's pretty clear where the great majority of Congress is and the great majority of the country is on this bill, and I just want to see the president speaking out and talking to those members that are a little less enthusiastic to support it," Brown said.
Obama went to the Hill to meet with the House Democratic Caucus in November, delivering a pep talk in Saturday session minutes before the first in a series of crucial votes leading up to a final roll call on the House bill to guarantee near-universal health insurance.
“I am absolutely confident we’ll get this done,” Obama told House Democrats, according to a senior Congressional aide who briefed reporters after the meeting. “And when I’m in the Rose Garden, signing a piece of legislation to give healthcare to all Americans, we’ll look back and say this was our finest moment."
This story was updated at 1:40 p.m.