- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

Senate Democrats are working toward compromises on abortion and the government’s role in health care to seal enough support for their legislation to schedule final votes possibly on Christmas Eve.

They are still at least two votes short of the 60 votes needed to pass their health care reform.

Republicans, meanwhile, fired a warning shot Wednesday by saying they would use all procedural tactics at their disposal to stop the bill. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma effectively forced a Democratic amendment to be withdrawn by requiring that all 767 pages of the amendment be read aloud - a move that would have added up to 20 hours to the process.

One of the most liberal lawmakers in the Senate - Vermont’s Bernie Sanders - said now that the public option and Medicare expansion are out of the bill, it may be too weak to get his support. The independent told reporters that he’s working on a compromise with the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of the most conservative Democrats, said he’s still unsure whether the bill would authorize taxpayer-funding of abortions. He is working with Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, on a solution that would appease his concerns and keep the rest of the Democrats in line.

Other Democrats, such as Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, say they’re waiting to see the legislative text of the final changes as well as a cost estimate.

Recent moves to strip the bill of its public insurance plan and Medicare expansion moved Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, to support the bill, unless major changes are made.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters Wednesday that he expects Republicans to be unanimously opposed to the bill because of its new taxes and cuts to the Medicare program.

“At the core of the bill, at the heart of the matter is the half-a-trillion dollars cuts in Medicare, the $400 billion in tax increases, and the fact that insurance premiums are going to go up dramatically for most Americans,” he said. “And that is what is not going over with the American people.”

That means Democrats have to find all 60 votes from within their own ranks, including the two independents who caucus with them.

President Obama issued another plea to pass the bill in an interview scheduled to air Wednesday night on ABC. He said the federal government, burdened by the costs of Medicare and Medicaid, would “go broke” if the legislation is not passed.

“If we don’t pass it, here’s the guarantee: Your premiums will go up, your employers are going to load up more costs on you,” Mr. Obama said. “This actually provides us the best chance of starting to bend the cost curve on the government expenditures in Medicare and Medicaid.”

Government auditors already expect Medicare, under current law, to go bankrupt in 2017.

Democrats are waiting on a final cost analysis of changes to their health bill before Mr. Reid files a cumulative manager’s amendment to the bill. From there, the clock can start on the series of procedural votes that have to happen before the bill can be passed.

The first of those votes could come as soon as Monday, after the Senate takes a break from the health debate to vote on a Department of Defense funding bill this weekend. If that happens, a final vote wouldn’t come until Christmas Eve night unless Republican and Democratic leaders agree speed up debate.

• Jennifer Haberkorn can be reached at jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.old.

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