Senate Democrats May Be in Danger of Missing Health Reform Deadline

BY Lea Winerman  December 17, 2009 at 1:00 PM EST
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Senate Democrats may be in danger of missing their self-imposed Christmas deadline to pass health reform legislation, according to reports Thursday.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is still working to find compromise language on abortion acceptable to Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who appears to be the last Democratic holdout to promise his vote.

Meanwhile, Reid is also facing a backlash from the Democratic left, who are disappointed that both the public option and a Medicare buy-in have been dropped from the bill to win the votes of moderates. Former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean said in a Washington Post editorial Thursday:

“I know health reform when I see it, and there isn’t much left in the Senate bill. I reluctantly conclude that, as it stands, this bill would do more harm than good to the future of America.”

Still, no liberal Senators have gone so far as to say they won’t vote for the bill without the public option or Medicare buy-in. And White House senior adviser David Axelrod struck back Thursday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” calling efforts from the left to kill the bill “insane.”

“It would be a tragic, tragic outcome,” Axelrod said of suggestions of the bill’s demise.

Thursday may be the critical day for Reid to reach a compromise if he hopes to vote on the final bill by Christmas Eve, because under Senate procedural rules it could take up to six days from the time he files his managers’ amendment — the final form of the bill — until the vote.

That’s because Reid must wait two days after he files the managers’ amendment to begin the voting process. Then, the Senate must vote on the bill in three stages, and each stage involves up to 30 hours of debate time. The Baltimore sun has a comprehensive explanation of the process.

Senators can agree to limit debate to less than the allowed 30 hours, but Republicans are expected to insist on using the full time, as they’ve vowed to use every weapon in their arsenal to delay the vote.

On the other hand, anything can happen in the Senate, explains NewsHour Capitol Hill producer Linda Scott. “The smell of jet fuel is always a great incentive,” and it’s still possible that pressure to get home for Christmas could induce them to speed the process up.

Watch Thursday’s NewsHour for more reaction from David Axelrod in an interview with Jim Lehrer.