The holdout(s)

THE HOLDOUT(S)…. CNN reported late yesterday what has been widely suspected for nearly a week: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is poised to proceed with plans to introduce a Senate health care bill with a public health insurance option that would allow states to opt out.” A final decision is expected today.

And watching the Sunday morning shows, it was hard to miss the sense among leading Democrats that this might just come together. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri described herself as “pretty optimistic” and said Reid’s intended plan will likely get done “this year.” Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin said he is “frankly getting excited that we may have some momentum for something very positive.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York said on “Meet the Press” that the leadership is “close” to 60 votes — though, it should be noted, that would be 60 votes for cloture, not the legislation itself.

How close is “close”? Probably about a vote or two shy of the threshold. At this point, Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, the caucus’ most conservative member, may be the most serious impediment to reform. CNN’s John King asked Nelson whether he’s committed to the Democratic leadership that he’ll let health care reform come up for an up-or-down vote. Nelson replied:

“I’ve made no promise. I can’t decide about the procedural vote until I see the underlying bill. It would be, I think, reckless to say I’ll support the procedure without knowing what the underlying bill consists of. And it’s not put together yet. It’s a draft — it will be a draft bill sometime next week, submitted the Congressional Budget Office for the review of the cost.”

In other words, Nelson is certainly considering the possibility of siding with Republicans and denying the Senate a chance to vote on the bill.

Asked about possible compromises, Nelson added, “Well, I certainly am not excited about a public option where states would opt out of a robust, as they call it, robust government-run insurance plan. I’ll take a look at the one where states could opt in if they make the decision themselves.”

Not exactly a vote of confidence for the likely Democratic plan.

I don’t doubt that the reports about Dems being close to 60 are true, but no one should doubt the fact that getting from, say, 58 to 60 will be exceedingly difficult given the conservative Democratic holdouts. Based on what I’m hearing, the two biggest hurdles on cloture are likely to be Nelson and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas. Stay tuned.