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  Reid Seeks to Line up 60 Votes for Senate Health Bill  

Media coverage of the Sunday talk shows note Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) faces a difficult task in cobbling together a 60-vote majority to advance the healthcare legislation. The newest challenge came as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) announced he would not support a compromise Medicare buy-in provision, which several media reports suggested contradicted Lieberman's commitment to Senate leaders during the previous week.


        The Washington Post (12/14, Murray) reports that the "next 48 hours will be critical to the fate of healthcare reform in the Senate, as Democratic leaders struggle to settle disputes that stand in the way of holding a final vote this year on the massive package." By mid-week, Senate Majority Leader Reid "must begin the process of ending debate on the $848 billion bill or risk missing his deadline of final passage by Christmas, pushing the contentious healthcare debate into early 2010." Most of the "undecided lawmakers have refused to commit until the Congressional Budget Office delivers a cost analysis on the coverage alternatives offered last week by a group of five liberal and five conservative Democrats to replace the government insurance option originally included in the legislation."


        Lieberman threatens to oppose bill if it includes Medicare buy-in. The AP (12/14, Woodward) reports that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), "whose vote is critical to the bill's prospects, threatened Sunday to join Republicans in opposing healthcare legislation if it permits uninsured individuals as young to 55 to purchase Medicare coverage." The Senator "expressed his opposition twice during the day: first in an interview with CBS, and more strongly later, according to Democratic officials, in a private meeting with" Majority Leader Reid. Democratic aides, "speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lieberman later told Reid he would support a Republican-led filibuster against the bill if it contained the Medicare provision or permitted the government to sell insurance in competition with private companies."


        The New York Times (12/14, A21, Pear, Herszenhorn) reports Lieberman's statement was a "surprise setback for Democratic leaders," and "supporters had said earlier that they thought they had secured Mr. Lieberman's agreement to go along with a compromise they worked out to overcome an impasse within the Democratic Party." Senate Democratic leaders, "including Mr. Reid and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, said they had been mindful of Mr. Lieberman's concerns in the last 10 days and were surprised when he assailed major provisions of the bill on television Sunday." A Senate Democratic aide, "perplexed by Mr. Lieberman's stance, said, 'It was a total flip-flop, and leaves us in a predicament as to what to do.'"


        The Wall Street Journal (12/14, A3, Williamson, Hitt, subscription required) reports that in addition to Lieberman, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) also expressed concerns about the Medicare buy-in proposal, noting that he called it "the forerunner of single-payer, the ultimate single-payer plan, maybe even more directly than the public option." The Washington Times (12/14, Lobianco) and The Hill (12/14, Zimmermann, subscription required) also cover the story.


        McCaskill to vote against bill if CBO score shows costs up. Politico (12/14) reports Sen. Clare McCaskill (D-MO) "says she'd 'absolutely' vote against healthcare overhaul legislation if it raises costs and the deficit." On Fox News Sunday, McCaskill said, "My statement all along is it has to slow down the increase in healthcare costs over time, and that is bending the cost curve and secondly that it has to be deficit neutral."


        McConnell says Democrats in "serious trouble" on healthcare. The AP (12/14) reports Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) "says it's a stretch to think the Senate can finish its massive healthcare legislation before Christmas." On CBS' Face the Nation, McConnell said Democrats "are grappling with internal divisions and negative public opinion about the overhaul taking shape," and added "they're in serious trouble on this."

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