POLITICS

Feinstein, Bayh On Board For Public Option -- Nelson, Conrad Holding Out

A handful of Democratic senators are withholding their support for the time being for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's health care reform compromise, but none have yet to oppose it.

Reid (D-Nev.) is pushing the 59 other members of the Democratic caucus to vote to allow a health care reform bill with a public option to head to the Senate floor.

Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that they are largely on board with Reid, but Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said they need more time to evaluate the proposal.

"Harry Reid is a tough guy. He has advanced a proposal that he thinks at this stage has the greatest chance of carrying the day," said Sen. Conrad.

He's not yet backing Reid's play, however. "I've got to see in writing and have scores before I reach any judgment," he said. A "score" is legislative lingo for a cost estimate done by the Congressional Budget Office.

Two things, he said, make a "big difference" to him, however: Reid included Conrad's cherished health care cooperative idea in the bill he's sending to the CBO and Reid is not tying the public health insurance option to a Medicare payment scale. Both concessions go a long way to winning his support, said Conrad.

And Nelson? "I haven't said and I'm not going to make a decision on that until I've seen the actual, physical bill," he said, adding that he wants to see "how it's scored, what the cost is."

Nelson and Conrad spoke to reporters before heading into a weekly Democratic luncheon where Reid plans to speak to members about the path forward.

Feinstein, who some progressives had worried might be a no vote, said she's with Reid. "I think the public option with an opt out is the right way to go," she said.

Reid's version of the public option would allow states to opt out of the plan, but they must do so by 2014 and would be automatically enrolled in it if they chose not to.

For Bayh, the public option is not a top concern, he told reporters. "I have some qualms about it but it's a bigger issue for some than it is for me. And their cloture vote might be more affected by what is done on that than mine would be," he said. A cloture vote is called to end a filibuster. Sixty votes are needed for cloture.

Will the sixty be there?

"That's a problem," said Feinstein.

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