While Reid's proposal is for states to individually ban the public option for their residents, Landrieu prefers a proposal by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, that would only create a public insurance option in places where the private market fails to provide affordable options.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb, announced Friday that he supported opening debate on the legislation. Like Landrieu, Nelson argued that his vote in favor of breaking the filibuster does not guarantee support for the final measure.
"In my first reading, I support parts of the bill and oppose others I will work to fix. If that's not possible, I will oppose the second cloture motion -- needing 60 votes -- to end debate, and oppose the final bill," Nelson said. "But I won't slam the doors of the Senate in the face of Nebraskans now. They want the health care system fixed. The Senate owes them a full and open debate to try to do so."
Republicans had targeted Nelson to vote against the bill, not only because of the public option and its cost, but also because he generally supports limiting abortion rights, and Reid's bill has a less strict prohibition on federal funds being used for abortion than does the version that passed the House.
Unlike the House debate on a Saturday several weeks ago, the debate today struck a much more sedate tone.
Senators signed up in advance for time periods, with Republicans and Democrats alternating hours. Few other senators were on the floor besides those speaking or waiting to speak. The spectator's gallery was about half full in mid-afternoon, and there were no signs of demonstrators outside the Capitol.
Republicans seem destined to lose their bid to kill the Democrats' health-care overhaul efforts by filibustering Reid's bill off the Senate floor.
But Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, pledged to carry the fight into the future.
"The American people are asking us to stop this bill and we're going to do everything we can to bring a stop to this before it becomes law," he said at a press conference on Capitol Hill amid today's unusual session.
"The time of maximum opportunity to affect this bill is now," McConnell said, trying to convince moderate Democrats to support the Republican filibuster.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., was in the holiday spirit and had some good zingers.
"This is the Harry Reid layaway plan for the holiday season," Burr said. "Pay in for four years before you get anything out of it."
Burr was referring to the structure of Reid's bill, in which the main reform components, such as creation of state-based insurance exchanges and the public option, are not up and running until 2014.
So while the bill is officially scored by the CBO as costing $848 billion, Republicans argue that for the 10 years after the changes take effect, from 2014 to 2024, the cost is over $2 trillion.
Republicans have taken every opportunity to slam the Democrats' bill for being too long at more than 2,000 pages. They have printed a number of copies of the bill on single-sided pages, and stand before large stacks of paper to make their speeches.
Burr hoisted the bill as he spoke at the Republicans press conference.
"This 20 pounds is the size of most people's turkey next week and that's what most people in North Carolina think of it," he said.