Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Reid Says Senate Democrats Will Unite to Move Health Care Bill

By Adriel Bettelheim and Kathleen Hunter, CQ Staff

September 10, 2009 -- President Obama will try to generate momentum from his address to Congress during a meeting Thursday with more than a dozen centrist Democrats whose support he will need to push any health care bill through the Senate.

Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed confidence that Senate Democrats would unite and pass a health-care overhaul by Thanksgiving, with the support of at least "a few" Republicans.

"I hope we can get it done well before Thanksgiving," Reid, D-Nev., said.

Some issues, he said, may have to be resolved on the Senate floor—especially the question of whether some type of "public option" should be offered to individuals and small businesses shopping for health insurance on the exchange, or marketplace, to be created by the legislation.

With initial polls showing Obama scored a rhetorical victory with the public, the administration is keen to reassure wavering centrists that the changes the president is pushing in the health care system would not adversely affect middle-class voters.

Sixty-seven percent of Americans who watched the president's speech said they favor his health care plans, a 14-point gain over the level of support before the speech, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. national poll.

A U.S. Census Bureau report released Thursday offered new evidence of the health coverage problem facing many Americans.

The Census found that the number of uninsured climbed again last year to 46.3 million people, an increase of 600,000 from 2007. The number covered by private insurance, either through their jobs or individual policies, dropped by 1 million. Those insured through government programs increased from 83 million to 87.4 million.

Obama reiterated key points of his Wednesday' night address Thursday morning in a White House appearance before about 150 nurses and leaders of the American Nurses Association.

"We don't need more partisan distractions," Obama said. "If there are real concerns about any aspect of my plan, let's address them. If there are real differences, let's resolve them. But we have talked this issue to death, year after year, decade after decade. And the time for talk is winding down. The time for bickering has passed."

But Obama didn't persuade many skeptics, who note he has yet to produce a detailed legislative plan.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on Thursday formally requested that the White House release details of the president's plan. "No serious debate can take place without details and language, and I am anxious to see the full text of the legislation the president described last night," Corker said in a statement.

Shoring Up Senate Support

The president's description of what he wants to see in a final health care bill tracked fairly closely with the outline of legislation unveiled this week by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Baucus expects to release a full chairman's "mark," or draft bill, next week, and he has announced that his committee will mark up the measure the week of Sept. 21.

Baucus met Thursday morning with the other five members of his committee's bipartisan "Gang of Six" to assess their views in the wake of the president's speech.

Obama, meanwhile, prepared to talk about his bottom line with 15 Senate Democrats and one independent. Those invited were Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Warner of Virginia and independent Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.

Obama has tried to rally Congress around a set of principles, but he continues to defer to lawmakers to fill in key details.

He made clear, however, that he favors mandates on individuals to purchase coverage, and on businesses to offer their workers insurance or pay a penalty to help cover the cost of covering the uninsured. He also insisted that any legislation require insurance companies to cover all who wish to buy policies, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions, and forbid companies from dropping people once they get sick.

While Obama voiced a strong preference for a government-run plan to compete against private health plans in a health insurance exchange, or marketplace, he signalled he was open to alternatives so long as they assured competition and affordable coverage in all areas of the country.

Obama also said the total costs of an overhaul should be around $900 billion—and he linked spending to expand coverage to the approximately 46 million uninsured Americans to cost savings he said can be extracted from the health system.

Obama is likely to need the votes of every Democrat in the Senate and the two independents who ally with them, because only one Republican—Maine's Olympia J. Snowe—has been receptive to the kind of plan the president envisions.

About a dozen Democrats remain on the fence. Most are fiscal conservatives who likely won't commit before the Congressional Budget Office scores the costs of an overhaul. CBO is not expected to provide a score for Baucus's bill until next week.

Getting to Passage
Reid conceded Democratic leaders still face a challenge in getting a health bill to Obama's desk.

"We're working with very narrow margins here," said Reid, who captains a 59-member caucus that includes a significant number of moderates who have expressed concern about the bill's costs and opposition to a government-run public option to compete with private insurers.

Reid said he was confident that moderate Democrats would at least fall in line to surmount any GOP filibuster of a health care proposal—although he would need at least one Republican to join the majority party in order to reach 60 votes.

"We're going to be fine with the moderates," Reid said. "Remember what we're talking about initially are procedural votes ... and we usually get all of them—with rare exception—on procedural votes."

The floor debate will allow senators to hash out whether to include a public option in the Senate bill, and if so, what type, Reid said.

"The ultimate decision will be made on the Senate floor," he said. "We will have votes on different variations of the public option ... There are different types of public options, and we're going to look at all of them."

Publication Details