As the Democrats' self-imposed deadline to pass health care legislation by the end of this year approaches, lawmakers continue to trudge along slowly on the bill amid internal strife.
Publicly, the sparring and finger-pointing between Republicans and Democrats continues to dominate Senate debates. But even among Democrats, deep divisions remain, guaranteeing a rocky road as the debate approaches its final phases, with a vote expected by month's end. Moderate and liberal Democrats and a few moderate Republicans are negotiating behind closed doors on a health care bill that would get the 60 votes it needs to pass on the floor.
On Thursday, senators voted on four amendments in the 2,000-plus-page legislation, mostly on party lines. Nearly 72 amendments have been proposed for the bill, crafted chiefly by Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Today, Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced what they hailed as a "tri-partisan" amendment expanding measures in the Reid bill and introducing more cost containments. But even as the three promoted health care overhaul and their joint proposal, they publicly sparred over provisions, mainly the option of a government-sponsored health care plan, more popularly called the "public option."
Lawmakers are planning to work through this weekend -- in what could be one of many firsts -- to push through a health care bill.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today the White House is still aiming for the end of the year timeline for a health care bill, and even though President Obama will be in Hawaii for the holidays, lawmakers shouldn't rule out having him sign a bill, if need be.
"If the bill is passed the president would be happy to sign it in Hawaii. I can think of any number of picturesque locations," Gibbs told reporters.
Here is a look at some of the key points of debate in the Senate bill, and where things stand:
"Abortion and public option are really the major obstacles at this point," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters on a conference call today. "We feel like we're moving to the point where soon we can talk about an endgame where we have an agreement that can bring together 60 votes but we're not there yet."
"It isn't a single payer [system] and it is not going to add to the deficit. It's going to be a level playing field," the former Republican said at the joint press conference with Collins and Lieberman. "I would invite everyone to read the fine print."
Asked whether his final vote will be determined on the public option, Specter responded: "I'm not going to make any concessions... on a strong public option."
On Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D- Ore., said on ABC's "Top Line" that the public option as structured in the Senate health care bill would result in a pool insuring only the unhealthiest, unless it's available to all Americans.
"My concern is you can't let the public option be something of a health care ghetto," Wyden said. "Right now it looks like the folks that are going to be getting into it are people that haven't had insurance. The evidence shows that those are folks who didn't get check-ups, didn't get prevention, didn't get chronic care or maintenance."