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Health Bill Hopes To Sway Reluctant Democrats


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Product rollouts are usually followed by intense campaigns to win over potential buyers. It's no different with the massive health care bill that Senate Democrats presented last night. Today, they were in full sales mode and it's not so much the Republicans they have to convince.

As NPR's David Welna reports, several Democrats are wavering and their votes are crucial.


DAVID WELNA: Senate Democratic leaders summoned reporters at the Capitol today to what was billed as a news conference on their newly released health care bill. But the room was also crammed with supporters. As senators stepped before the TV cameras, the event turned into a pep rally.


WELNA: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got a hero's welcome as architect of the new health bill, which combines legislation passed by two Senate committees. Reid made clear this was not an overture to win Republican votes.

HARRY REID: We reach out to our Republican colleagues, and we would like to work with them. But everyone should understand we're going to do a bill. We hope that we don't have to do it with Democrats, but if we have to we will.

WELNA: The question, though, is whether there are enough Democrats in Reid's 60-member caucus willing to cast the 60 votes needed to move the bill forward. Those still uncommitted include Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, and Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln. Reid today was making no predictions.

REID: We'll find out when the votes are taken.

WELAN: New York Democrat Chuck Schumer also sounded a note of caution.

CHUCK SCHUMER: We're not there yet, but we are in the territory that's very close to getting over the goal line.

WELNA: To help win over centrist Democrats worried about the cost of the bill, Reid pared it down to $849 billion over the next decade, that's $150 billion less than the price tag on the health care bill the House passed this month. But Senate Republicans today dismissed the cost-cutting as budget gimmicks. Here's Tennessee's Lamar Alexander.

LAMAR ALEXANDER: This is the same turkey that you saw in August and it's not going to taste any better in November. It's not much different than what worried you in August. In fact, it's gotten a little bit worse.

WELNA: Indeed many provisions in the Senate bill don't take effect until 2014, a year later than in the House bill. Republican leader Mitch McConnell today portrayed that cost-cutting measure as an absurd layaway plan.

MITCH MCCONNELL: We're being told we must rush to pass this legislation, even though most of its provisions won't take effect for another five years - until 2014. That's a little bit like being asked to pay your mortgage four years before you're allowed to move into your house.

WELNA: Pushing the startup date back to 2014 for such major items in the bill as the public option also has some Democrats upset. Among them, Iowa's Tom Harkin.

TOM HARKIN: I don't think it should take that long - 2011, 2012, minimum could be moved up a year.

WELNA: Still, Harkin says there are many provisions in the health care bill that will take effect much sooner if it becomes law.

HARKIN: All those people that have insurance now, health care insurance now, are going to see things happening to them in a good way next year. Next year they are going to say, oh, my gosh, you mean I can't get dropped because I have no more lifetime caps? That means I'm not going to get bankrupt? You mean my kids can stay on my policy?

WELNA: Harkin says that's one major reason why Republicans are fighting so hard to kill a health care overhaul as Congress heads into next year's mid-term elections battles. But with just 40 votes in the Senate, Republicans stand little chance of blocking health care legislation on their own or even modifying it. What the GOP is hoping for is at least one Senate Democrat breaking ranks and derailing the bill in a procedural vote that's slated for Saturday.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.