An influential centrist Democrat says Congress should tackle healthcare reform in two parts, one before the 2010 midterm elections and one after.

Speaking to a constituent meeting in Scottsbluff, Neb., Nelson said lawmakers should implement cost-saving measures this year but delay any action on extending coverage until after the midterms.

Voters should be able to evaluate "what's been done and what remains to be done" before they go to the polls, Nelson said.

"Public debate can occur in the context of an election," he added.

Democrats will almost certainly need Nelson's vote — as well as that of every other member of the caucus — to garner the 60 votes needed to pass reform without using budget reconciliation.

But Nelson said 60 votes isn't enough. The Nebraska Democrat said he'd only feel comfortable voting for a bill that he knows can get at least 65 votes.

"I think anything less than that would challenge its legitimacy," he said.