Democratic leaders won't let the Senate's health reform effort stall on the issue of abortion, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asserted Monday.

Durbin says that as the Senate begins debate on its healthcare bill today, senators would look to reach some "common ground" on the issue of federal funding of abortions.

"We've got to find a common ground here," Durbin said during an appearance on KTRS radio in St. Louis. "We cannot let this important issue hit the rocks over abortion."


Some centrist Democrats -- most notably Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) -- have said the Senate bill fails to go far enough to ensure taxpayer dollars don't fund abortions. And with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) still working to cobble all 60 Democrats together to support a final bill, Nelson or another centrist's recalcitrance could threaten the bill's prospects for final passage, barring some changes.

Durbin explained that abortion, along with the inclusion (and scale of) a public health insurance plan in the bill would be the two major issues facing the Senate in the weeks of debate to come.

"If we can't draw the votes for the public option," Durbin said the question then facing Democratic leaders becomes: "What will the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus accept, if anything?"

The second-ranking Senate Democrat said that the amendment process would bear out some answers on those issues, and that Senate leaders would welcome amendments "as long as they're being offered in good faith with an option to vote."

But, Durbin cautioned, "We have an end date here," adding that the Senate still aims to finish work on its bill by the Christmas holiday recess.