Reid's Numbers Game: To Public Option, Or Not?

More Democrats are drawing lines in the sand over health bill provisions.

ByABC News
November 23, 2009, 3:59 PM

Nov. 23, 2009— -- Democrats may have scored a big victory on the first Senate health care overhaul vote, but party unity lasted only as long as it took to bring down the gavel on Saturday's vote.

Sixty senators -- exactly the number needed to pass a bill -- voted Saturday night to move forward with debate. But even as they voted yes on this first procedural votes, several Democrats warned they'll vote no on the next vote if the bill isn't changed.

"I'm prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government-run public option is included," said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Neb., who has been a swing Democratic vote on the Senate's bill.

She's one of four Democrats who voted "yes" on bringing the bill to the floor for debate -- but who say they'll vote "no" next time if the bill still includes a government-run insurance program.

Since no Republicans support the bill, losing four Democratic votes would mean the bill only has 56 "yes" votes -- not enough to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could try to win support by taking the public option out, but that move is also problematic.

There are at least two Democrats who say they'll vote against any bill that does not include a public option, and there may be many more.

"I'll vote against any bill without a public option," said Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill.

"I don't want four Democratic senators dictating to the other 56 of us and to the country," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

That leaves Majority Leader Reid in a bind. If he keeps the public option in the bill, he may lose four votes. If he takes the public option out, he could lose at least two votes.

Either way, the bill would go down because Reid can't afford to lose a single vote.