WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scrambled Tuesday to lock down votes behind a health care bill that he may unveil as early as today.
Reid would not confirm that he had received commitments from all 60 members of the Democratic caucus to overcome GOP procedural objections and bring the legislation to the Senate floor, saying only, "I feel cautiously optimistic that we can do that. I think we're together as a caucus."
The leader was more outspoken in describing his bill, boasting to reporters: "Of all the bills we've seen, it'll be the best: saves more money, is more protective of Medicare, is a bill that's good for the American people."
Preliminary estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill's official scorekeeper, have indicated that the Senate legislation will cost far less than the bill approved last week by the House, while lowering the federal deficit further over the long term, said several senior Democratic aides who have reviewed the CBO data.
Democrats are hopeful of winning over at least one Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe, on a vote for final passage. But the Maine moderate has pledged to support a GOP filibuster at the outset because Reid's bill is expected to include a public insurance option that she opposes.
The vote on bringing the bill to the floor could come as early as Friday.
Democratic leaders have spent recent days wooing three party moderates who have refused to publicly commit to starting the Senate debate: Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
Nelson and Landrieu appeared to be warming to Reid's strategy, Democratic aides said, provided certain concerns are addressed. For instance, Nelson wants the Senate bill to leave in place a federal antitrust exemption for insurance companies, which other Democrats have sought to repeal. He is also demanding language that would unequivocally block federal funds from subsidizing abortions.
Landrieu has lobbied for additional benefits for her home state, while Lincoln has insisted on a 72-hour waiting period after the Senate bill is released, to give lawmakers time to review the legislation before casting the first vote.
Reid is believed to have made several major changes to the bills approved by the Senate finance and health committees, in the process of merging them.