Reid Is Ready to Go (Updated)

by Jonathan Cohn | November 18, 2009

Multiple sources on and around Capitol Hill say Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is ready to go. At 5 p.m. today, he'll present the his full health care reform bill, complete with a Congrssional Budget Office score, to a meeting of the Democratic caucus. A press conference may follow.

The Democratic message machine is already hard at work. As Emily Pierce, Brian Beutler, and Ezra Klein have reported, leadership is putting out the word that Reid is "very pleased" with the bill and its CBO assessment.

Suffice to say this makes me "a little worried."

Most of Washington seems to think a low CBO score is automatically a good CBO score. But a low CBO score means a bill that doesn't involve a lot of federal outlays. And without a lot of federal outlays, you can't insure as many people or provide them with as much protection.

Still, the bill will have a public insurance option, which is something nobody expected as recently as a few weeks ago. And the political reality of the Senate remains what it's always been: Reid needs to hold 60 votes to break the inevitable Republican filibusters. That's no minor challenge.

The first big test will come on the "motion to proceed"--that is, a motion to begin debate. The goal remains to hold that vote by the end of this week. Sources seem confident Reid will, in fact, get 60 votes, although they caution that at least one senator (and probably more) in the caucus have not yet committed firmly. If Reid wins on that vote, he will have earned his pay--and then some.

Of course, the next big procedural vote, on a motion to end debate, will be even tougher. But that is weeks away. First Reid must deal with the coming Republican campaign to drag out the process as long as possible. As you may have heard, Senator Tom Coburn may demand that the entire bill be read aloud.

According to one senior Senate staffer, one option under discussion is to keep the Senate in session next week, with local members from Maryland and Virginia taking turns presiding over what will presumably be a mostly vacant chamber. Republicans keen to hear every last word would be welcome to delay their Thanksgiving trips and attend in person.

The leadership also has some other ideas for expediting the process. Carrie Budoff Brown and Chris Frates have that story in Politico.

Update: Apparently some last-minute issues have come up with the CBO score. Senator Tom Harkin told Politico that some last-minute "add-on"s pushed the score above $900 billion--which, to be clear, could actually be good news. We'll see what Reid tells the caucus at 5.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-treatment/breaking-reid-ready-go