ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports:
A gauntlet of parliamentary and hurdles and differing opinions beset the road ahead for health reform. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must navigate his health reform proposal through the Senate with 60 votes at three different points in order to produce a sweeping health reform bill this year. The differing opinions among Democrats were on display as Senators entered their weekly lunchtime policy huddle in the Capitol Building. Most definitive was Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat who caucuses with Democrats. He said he “I will not support cloture on a bill I don’t support,” he said. But politicians have a lot of cover here. Lieberman said he may indeed vote for cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill, bringing it to the Senate floor. And that’s where he will try to change the bill. He can then oppose cloture before a final vote. And he’ll get an opportunity before voting on a conference report that would meld bills passed by the House and Senate. “What Senator Reid’s strategy requires, unless he can get to 60 votes without some of us, is some very intensive negotiations once the floor debate begins,” Lieberman told reporters. Lieberman is to the right of Republican Olympia Snowe on the public option. He opposes even a government-run plan that would be triggered if the market fails to provide affordable options. It will get stickier for Reid if a public option is in the bill passed by the Senate. The bill will either have to be changed to suit Lieberman (and the other Democrats who feel the same way he does). There are Democrats who say they won’t support a public option like the one Reid has included in his proposal. There are Democrats who won’t support anything but a public option. There are Democrats who support a public option, but want to give all Americans access to it. Others support a public option, but want to contain it to those who don’t have insurance through their employer. Other Democrats don’t really care about the public option. They are more concerned that a bill is likely to drive down health care costs. “My broader concerns as I’ve tried to indicate are about whether its fiscally responsible and the impact it’s going to have on ordinary people who already have insurance,” said Sen. Evan Bayh, who is leery of a public option, but is not rejecting Reid’s proposal. “Is it going to make it more expensive – in which case it would be a difficult thing to support – or does it actually begin to get their costs down just as it gets the government’s costs down.” Bayh said he has asked CBO for an assessment of his question. They’ll get to it as soon as they put a price tag on the bill as written. Sen. Ron Wyden wants to make the public option open to everyone – something not envisioned by current proposals. “I’m going to work with him to expand the number of people who have choices. To me you can’t expect that having ten percent of the American people getting the public option will force major changes with the other ninety percent who aren’t subjected to choices at all.” What’s clear is that everyone, including Lieberman, seems keen to get a chance at changing the bill Reid has produced. And a 60-vote-threshold cloture vote on whether even to consider the bill will be the first procedural hurdle, and the easiest. But first they’ll have to get a look at his bill, which melds a liberal HELP Committee bill and a centrist Finance Committee bill and was sent yesterday to the Congressional Budget Office for an official price tag. “Nobody’s read it except the leader and maybe some staff. I’m not being feisty here, but until I read it I don’t know what ‘it’ is,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska. But Nelson did not dismiss out of hand a public option like the one Reid has proposed. “Some versions of opt out are better for me than others,” Nelson said. “You want to play in the third quarter and we’re just about at the half,” Nelson told reporters.