- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

Two Senate Democratic Caucus members whose votes are key to passing a health care bill said several provisions must be stripped in order to ensure their support, and they said they cannot vote for the bill that currently exists.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been courting Sens. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, but remarks by both men on Sunday’s political-talk programs show that they remain unpersuaded.

Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said a provision allowing people aged 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare, which was added to the bill to substitute for a “public option” insurance plan, is still a bad deal that adds to the federal budget deficit.

“The opposition to it has been growing as the week has gone on. And though I don’t know exactly what’s in it, from what I hear, I certainly would have a hard time voting for it because it has some of the same infirmities that the public option did,” Mr. Lieberman said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It will add taxpayer costs. It will add to the deficit. It’s unnecessary.”

When pressed by moderator Bob Schieffer, “So you can’t vote for the bill right now?” Mr. Lieberman answered “yes.”

Mr. Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, also criticized the Medicare proposal as “the forerunner of single-payer, the ultimate single-payer plan, maybe even more directly than the public option,” which would allow a government-supported insurance plan to compete with the private sector.

But at the other end of the Democratic spectrum, many top liberals, most especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said a strong “public option,” not the watered-down substitutes the Senate is trying to pass, is essential to their support.

Mr. Nelson also said he could not support the measure without new safeguards against the public funding of abortions - a measure the Senate already has rejected.

“I can’t support the bill with the abortion language that’s there,” Mr. Nelson declared Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” though he added that lawmakers were trying to assuage his concerns.

“I do know that there are some who are, right now, trying to find language that might be compatible with the Stupak language in the House,” Mr. Nelson said.

Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, successfully sponsored an amendment to the House version of health care reform that barred any public funds going for abortions or insurance plans that cover abortion. Mr. Nelson’s effort to put in similar language was tabled on a 54-45 vote last week.

Democratic leaders have stuck by a stated deadline of Christmas for passage of the sweeping bill, but divisions within the Democratic caucus have made that seem increasingly unlikely.

“There are more Democratic positions than you’d find in a stack of newspapers. And therein lies the problem,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on “Face the Nation.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat and another key swing vote in the chamber, set another marker for Democrats, saying she will vote against any health bill that does not save money.

“We have to be saving more money for our government than we’re spending. And if we’re not saving more money for our government than we’re spending, then not only will I not support it, the president said he won’t support it,” Mrs. McCaskill said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Under the Senate plan as drafted, health care costs likely would increase at a quicker pace than they are set to already, according to a report released Friday by analysts with the Health and Human Services Department.

The report’s authors added that one of the Democrats’ top plans for paying for expanded health care, by reducing Medicare benefits for seniors, would not cover the tab the bill is expected to rack up.

However, Mrs. McCaskill said she wants to see how the Congressional Budget Office scores the bill before deciding how she will vote.

• Tom LoBianco can be reached at tlobianco@washingtontimes.com.

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