- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sen. Blanche Lincoln woke up Monday to a new Republican attack ad labeling her a “flip-flopper” and urging Arkansas voters to press her to oppose President Obama’s health care overhaul, a sign of the fight homing in on Mrs. Lincoln and a handful of other centrist Democrats as the debate moves to the Senate.

Mrs. Lincoln is facing the re-election fight of her life next year. Recent polls show voters split on the question of a government-run health insurance option that is at the heart of Mr. Obama’s plan.

The Republican National Committee put up a Web ad hitting Mrs. Lincoln for saying she might vote to break a filibuster on the bill but then vote against final passage, a move that ultimately would help pass the bill.

The ad compared Mrs. Lincoln’s stand to what Republicans said were the shifting positions Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts during the 2004 presidential race. “Americans don’t respect politicians who try to have it both ways.” the ad’s announcer says. “Arkansans know a flip-flopper when they see one.”

Mrs. Lincoln, struggling to balance pressure from her party leaders in Washington against the political realities back home, likely recalls that Mr. Kerry lost Arkansas by a 10 percentage point margin.

Several centrist Democrats - including Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana - will be in a similar bind on issues ranging from the deficit impact of health care reform to whether taxpayer dollars pay for abortions.

“We have to find a solution. We need 60 votes,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, who helped write one of the two health bills being merged by the chamber.

The Senate centrists will play a role much like that of the 51 conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House, about three-quarters of whom voted against that chamber’s bill Saturday, when it passed by just five votes, 220-215.

In the Senate, the Democratic majority’s margin for error is even thinner and the moderate Democrats will figure even more prominently as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scrambles to round up the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster and pass a bill. Even one defection by a Democrat or Senate independent could torpedo the bill’s chances.

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, reached out to several of the chamber’s moderates in recent weeks and Mr. Obama met privately with Mrs. Lincoln at the White House last week, underlying how important it will be to get every Democrat on board.

Several of these swing votes have already voiced skepticism about the plan’s government-run public insurance option, the bill’s roughly $900 billion price tag and the new taxes and Medicare cuts to pay for it.

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, for instance, said he won’t vote for anything that isn’t deficit-neutral, while Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Sunday he will not support the bill on final passage if the public option is included.

Senate Republicans are expected to vote unanimously against the bill, particularly if the public insurance plan remains, forcing Mr. Reid to nail down every member of the majority’s 60-member caucus to prevail.

“The so-called moderates in the Democrat Senate caucus certainly face an important decision: to toe the line for President Obama and Harry Reid by supporting a massive government takeover of our nation’s health care system, or to vote against this contentious legislation and force national Democrat leaders to finally work with Republicans,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson Marchand.

“No matter which way they go, one thing is clear - a vote in favor of [ending the filibuster] is a vote in favor of costly government-run health care, and these Democrats will be held accountable for their decision on this critical issue when Americans go to the ballot box.”