THE TREATMENT DECEMBER 15, 2009
Via Politico, here's what Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson said as he left a White House meeting with the rest of the Democratic caucus a little while ago:
I’m not on the bill. I have spoken with the president and he knows they are not wrapped up today. I think everybody understands they are not wrapped up today and that impression will not be given.
A lot of people are treating today as the end of the debate, for better or worse, now that the Democrats have shelved the public option and Joe Lieberman appears ready to support the Senate bill. But that's only because everybody (pro- and anti-reform) has focused too much on the public option. On Capitol Hill, operatives and staff have said all along that Nelson, not Lieberman, would be the most difficult member of the caucus to win over. And his primary focus is abortion, although he has other concerns, as well.
One interesting question is how Republicans Olympia Snowe and, maybe, Susan Collins fit into this picture. She was unhappy with the Medicare buy-in plan, saying she opposed the idea in principle and didn't appreciat the rush to concoct a compromise. But that effort is now over. The bill that remains looks remarkably like the one that passed the Finance Committee. As you may recall, Snowe voted for that bill.
The great advantage of recruiting Snowe is that she supports abortion rights. Remember, she joined the majority of Democrats in voting against Nelson's amendment that would have introduced language prohibiting the coverage of abortion services within the new insurance exchanges. (Collins did, too.) That would actually produce a bill more liberal than the House alternative, at least on this one issue, with the differences to be settled in conference.
Of course, that presumes Snowe and Collins want to negotiate. Sources on Capitol Hill seem to think that's not the case: "Neither of the two women from Maine seem interested in playing ball," one senior aide says. But, as we've all seen recently, these things can change quickly.
Update: A senior Senate aide e-mails with a different take on Snowe:
Snowe has more invested in this bill than some Democrats. We may lose her but she's gettable ... [the bill is] closer and closer to Finance. And moderate Ds are talking to her constantly.
As for Nelson, the aide says that the Nebraska senator is playing a "constructive role" in meetings and seems unlikely to uphold a filibuster if he is the decisive vote. "My head says his heart wants to vote for this, despite all the hullabaloo."