Time to go courting Republicans for healthcare bill?

With some Senate Democrats unenthusiastic about reform legislation, votes may have to come from elsewhere

Published November 23, 2009 3:40PM (EST)

The Senate vote on Democrats' healthcare reform bill Saturday night was close -- maybe too close. Majority Leader Harry Reid won an important victory, no doubt, but he had only the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and move the legislation to the floor, no more. He may not have all 60 when the next cloture motion, the one to break a Republican filibuster and force an up-or-down vote, comes around.

One member of the Senate's Democratic caucus, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., has already said he intends to support a filibuster if the bill includes a public option. And he's not the only one saying something like that -- Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska are also talking defection.

That means that unless Reid can work out some sort of deal, he'll need to look for votes elsewhere: specifically, across the aisle. The New York Times reported Monday that he's already done that; along with the White House, he's courting Maine's two senators, Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Both voted with their party on Saturday, but both have also shown signs that they're willing to defect for the right bill. Snowe, for instance, became the only Republican to have voted for any of the Democrats' proposals when she supported the Finance Committee's version of reform legislation.

And Collins is quoted in the Times as saying, "“I have ruled out voting for this bill, but I still very much want to vote for a bill and that is why I am continuing to have discussions. I still cling to the belief that it is possible for a group of us to come together and rewrite the bill in a way that would cause it to have greater support.”

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Healthcare Reform Olympia J. Snowe R-maine Susan M. Collins U.s. Senate