The Washington Post: "Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the final Democratic holdout on health care, announced to his colleagues Saturday morning that he would support the Senate reform bill, clearing the way for final passage by Christmas of President Obama's top domestic policy priority. Asked if he had secured the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) told reporters, 'It seems that way.' ... Democratic leaders worked for days to hammer out a deal with Nelson, and finally reached a tentative agreement late Friday night with him on abortion coverage provisions that had proven the major stumbling block to winning his support" (Murray and Montgomery, 12/19).
CongressDaily: "The abortion language allows states to elect to prohibit abortion coverage in the [health insurance] exchanges and prohibits federal tax credits from being used to fund coverage of the procedure by plans to keep separate accounts for abortion services. Reid also gave Nelson a sweetener, directing the federal government to pick up the entire cost of the Medicaid expansion in Nebraska. The bill expands Medicaid to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. ... Reid would not directly address the questions about Nebraska's special treatment. Noting many senators made specific requests, Reid said 'Ben Nelson was just like the rest of them. We worked on things with him over a period of many, many weeks'" (Edney and Friedman, 12/19).
CNN: "Two liberal U.S. senators who had not committed to supporting the health care reform bill said Saturday they will vote 'yes.' The holdouts were Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat. Sanders said he will vote for approval because the measure now contains provisions for new community health centers. Brown said he favored the insurance reforms in the legislation. Neither of the men is totally pleased, but they told CNN it's a good first step" (12/19).
The New York Times: "In a sign of confidence that he had the necessary support ... the majority leader introduced his 383-page proposal in hopes of overcoming a series of procedural hurdles over the next several days. Republicans immediately forced a reading of the measure, which was expected to take at least 10 hours" (Hulse and Pear, 12/19).
Los Angeles Times: "The deal paved the way for Reid to introduce a long list of proposed changes to the legislation this morning and then file a series of procedural motions that would allow the Senate to take a final vote on the bill on Christmas Eve. That requires three procedural votes staggered between Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon, a tight timeline that Democrats must adhere to if they are to pass a healthcare bill by their self-imposed deadline" (Levey and Hook, 12/19).
Roll Call: "The Congressional Budget Office has priced the Senate health care package at $871 billion over 10 years and projected that it would reduce the deficit by $132 billion, positive news for Democrats hoping to pass a bill by Christmas. ... The CBO’s projections include Reid’s manager’s amendment, which accounts for the final changes to the Senate bill as negotiated [with Nelson.]
"Senate Democrats had been awaiting the CBO score for days, and many said they wouldn’t agree to support an end to debate on the final bill without the numbers" (Drucker, 12/19).
The Wall Street Journal: Republicans said the legislation would impose big costs on government and taxpayers, and warned Democrats will pay a big political price for moving forward with legislation that is unpopular with the public. 'The Democratic majority seems to be determined to pursue a political kamikaze mission toward an historic mistake,' said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a member of the Republican leadership. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the bill is a 'legislative train wreck of historic proportions'" (Hitt and Adamy, 12/19).
USA Today: Even with the agreement in place, Nelson "fired a warning shot at the House -- saying repeatedly that he would 'reserve the right' to vote against the measure later if the proposal was changed as lawmakers work to reconcile differences between the two versions of the bill" (Fritze, 12/19).