Reid has 60 votes -- for now, at least

The Senate Democrats' healthcare reform bill will pass its first test, but there are roadblocks ahead

Published November 22, 2009 12:01AM (EST)

Later Saturday night, the Senate Democrats' healthcare reform bill will pass its first test. Majority Leader Harry Reid officially has the 60 votes needed to win on a cloture motion that will open debate on the legislation. The last two members of the Democratic caucus to announce their intentions, Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, both said Saturday that they'll be voting with their party.

But this is just one procedural vote. The more daunting hurdle of the cloture vote to break a filibuster and hold an up-or-down vote on the bill itself still lies ahead, and there Reid may have serious trouble, especially if a plan to create a government-run insurance provider -- the public option -- remains in it.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who is a member of the Democratic caucus, has already said he'll vote to filibuster a bill that contains any form of the public option. (He is voting for cloture tonight, but not, he says, the next time around.) And on Saturday, Lincoln too threatened to support a filibuster of the legislation if it includes the public option.

Both will be tough nuts for Reid to crack. Lieberman's not up for re-election next year, and has already been taunting liberals by saying he's not afraid of possible retribution. Lincoln, on the other hand, is up for re-election -- and that's the problem. She's seriously vulnerable, and is looking at polling numbers that seem to indicate voting with her party to support a public plan would only put her in a more precarious position.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Harry Reid Healthcare Reform Mary Landrieu D-la. U.s. Senate