Politics & Government

Reid confident he has votes to start health care debate

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., walks to the Lyndon B. Johnson Room for a Democratic caucus on health care on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., walks to the Lyndon B. Johnson Room for a Democratic caucus on health care on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders planned to unveil an $849 billion health care plan Wednesday night that would cut the federal budget deficit by an estimated $127 billion over the next 10 years, according to preliminary Congressional Budget Office estimates.

The CBO analysis, awaited for nearly a month as senators struggled to craft a compromise bill, was welcome news for the leadership.

A senior leadership aide said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was to present the legislation before a private meeting of Democrats Wednesday evening, was now "confident" he could get the votes to begin debate.

Sixty votes are needed to approve beginning debate on the measure, and although Democrats control 60 seats, at least three centrists among them — Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, and Louisiana's Mary Landrieu — have been uncertain whether they would agree to start considering the bill. Leaders met Wednesday afternoon with the senators, who had no comment afterward.

A vote to cut off debate on whether the bill can proceed, which will need 60 votes to succeed, is expected on Saturday.

Reid has in recent weeks been a strong support of a government-run health insurance alternative, or public option, as well as requiring most people to obtain coverage.

Democratic leaders also have backed creation of a health insurance exchange, or marketplace, where people could easily compare rates and coverage. They've also been solidly behind barring insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

CBO estimates that about 94 percent of eligible Americans eventually would be covered under the leadership plan. Currently, about 83 percent have insurance.

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