Policy-ish

Senate Health Bill: Ready For Its Big Debut?

The rumors are flying fast and furious that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will soon unveil to the world the health overhaul bill he's been working on for months after one last effort to rally the recalcitrant troops behind closed doors at 5 p.m. today.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid i i

hide captionHealth overhaul poses a leadership challenge for Sen. Harry Reid.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Health overhaul poses a leadership challenge for Sen. Harry Reid.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Reid hopes to bring the bill—ostensibly a combination of the bills approved by two different Senate committees earlier this year—to the full Senate to begin debate as early as this weekend.

He's fighting not only the calendar — Republicans have vowed to prolong debate for at least several weeks, probably pushing a final vote right up to the Christmas holidays — but also his own caucus.

It is a clear challenge to his leadership.

Reid needs the votes of every one of his 58 Democrats, plus Independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, just to bring the bill to the floor. So far getting everyone on board, particularly moderates like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, has been no easy task.

To entice some of the fence-sitters, Reid has reportedly added some of his own bells and whistles to the bill that were not included in either of the committee products. To pacify liberals, he will include in the basic bill a so-called "public option." It would let individuals who don't get insurance on the job and small businesses choose a government-sponsored plan as one option in the new insurance "exchanges" the bill will create. To mollify moderates, states would be able to "opt out" of offering the public option if they want to.

But until now, it hasn't been enough.

Meanwhile, Republicans remain united in their opposition. Maine's Olympia Snowe, who once poked her toe in the water by voting for the Finance Committee bill, says she is opposed to any version of a public option, which the Reid bill is expected to include. Oklahoma's Tom Coburn has gone so far as to threaten to require the entire bill to be read aloud, which could ensure that everyone who has access to C-SPAN-2 will know exactly what is — and isn't — included in the Senate legislation.

Could make for some must-see TV this weekend.

For a sneak preview comparing the House bill with the one likely to emerge in the Senate, see this side-by-side chart from NPR's Kathleen Masterson and Kaiser Health News' Mary Agnes Carey.

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