The $100 Million Vote: Harry Reid Woos Skeptical Democrats

Dem leaders are not sure they will have 60 senators for key procedural vote.

ByABC News
November 19, 2009, 7:28 AM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2009— -- The battle to pass health care legislation has entered one of its final and most difficult phases.

Late Wednesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., unveiled the 2,074-page bill that will be debated in the Senate -- one of the biggest and most expensive bills to ever come to Congress.

On Saturday, the Senate will begin debate on the bill around 10 a.m. ET, and call for a procedural test vote around 8 p.m. The cloture on the motion to proceed will require 60 votes in order to end debate on the bill.

Reid will need all party members to support the bill if he wants to break the first Republican attempt at a filibuster. And what does it take to get a wavering senator to vote for health care legislation?

Here's a case study: On page 432 of the Senate bill, there is a section increasing federal Medicaid subsidies for "certain states recovering from a major disaster."

The section spends two pages defining which states would qualify, saying, among other things, that it would be states that "during the preceding 7 fiscal years" have been declared a "major disaster area."

ABC News has been told the section applies to exactly one state: Louisiana, the home of moderate Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who has been playing hard to get on the health care bill.

In other words, the bill spends two pages describing would could be written with a single world: Louisiana.

Reid, who drafted the bill, cannot pass it without Landrieu's support.

How much does it cost? According to the Congressional Budget Office: $100 million.

The full bill is available here.

The Senate health care bill, put together solely by Democrats, would cost $848 billion over 10 years and cover 31 million Americans who are uninsured.

The plan would cut the federal deficit by $130 billion in its first decade, more than any other bill, according to estimates by the non-partisan CBO. It would cut the budget deficit by as much as $650 billion in the second decade.

Read the full CBO report.

Ninety-four percent of Americans would have insurance under the legislation, which would be paid for with a menu of taxes on the wealthy and on high-cost, all-inclusive insurance plans that some people say drive up overall health care costs, and a new five percent tax on elective surgery. It also would cut spending by nearly $500 million on Medicare.

Under the proposed plan, almost all Americans would be required to have health insurance, or pay a fine -- up to $750 for an individual and $3,000 for a family. The public would be able to choose a government-run insurance plan that would be offered, along with private coverage, in an insurance "exchange."

It would also provide subsidies to households with less than $88,000 income to buy health insurance.

Getting the bill passed will be a tough and controversial battle. Republicans are ready to put their weight behind opposing the plan, and are getting more pointed with their criticisms of the bill.

"It's going to be a holy war," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told The New York Times.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has threatened to use a procedural move that would require Senators to read the entire health care bill before voting for it.

One of the main Republican talking points against the Democrats' health care proposals is that they are each, as Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has put it, "another thousand-page, trillion-dollar spending bill."

If Democrats are ultimately able to pass a bill through the Congress, however, which would be unlikely until next year, it would be a melded version of the Senate and House bills and would be closer to 2,000 pages than a 4,000-page amalgam.

But Republicans have taken the two roughly 2,000-page stacks of paper and placed them one on top the other, creating a 4,000-page pedestal of paper on the Senate floor.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., comfortably put his elbow on the stack while giving a floor speech this morning.

"So we've got, we've got a little reading to do, a little work to do," Alexander said of the bill. "Here is my early verdict in terms of the Thanksgiving season. This is the same turkey that you saw in August and it's not going to taste any better in November. It's not much different than what worried you in August. In fact, it's gotten a little bit worse."