The search for 60 continues

THE SEARCH FOR 60 CONTINUES…. Last night on the Fox Business Channel, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) raised a few eyebrows when he said he’s inclined to vote against the health care bill. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, what Sanders means.

“I’m struggling with this. As of this point, I’m not voting for the bill…. I’m going to do my best to make this bill a better bill, a bill that I can vote for, but I’ve indicated both to the White House and the Democratic leadership that my vote is not secure at this point.”

Any scenario in which the bill gets 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster would almost certainly rely on Sanders’ vote, so his remarks raised new concerns about the feasibility of the legislation.

But before opponents of the health care plan get too encouraged, keep in mind that Sanders hates Republican filibusters. When he says he’s “not voting for the bill,” Sanders is almost certainly talking about the final bill — unlike center-right members of the caucus, Sanders makes a distinction between the procedural vote and the legislative vote.

Indeed, he always has. In July, the Vermont senator said, “I think the strategy should be that every Democrat, no matter whether or not they ultimately end up voting for the final bill, is to say we are going to vote together to stop a Republican filibuster.” He repeated the sentiment in October, arguing that it’s incumbent on “every member of the Democratic caucus to vote yes to stop Republican filibusters.”

It’s extremely unlikely that Sanders would reverse course on this commitment.

The more daunting challenge, at this point, is Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb.) vote, who is willing to join a Republican filibuster. His concern continues to be language on indirect abortion subsidies (language that he’s changed his mind on more than once).

As of yesterday afternoon, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), another pro-life Dem, delivered to Nelson a new proposal with additional restrictions on federal financing of abortion. Will it be good enough? The Washington Post reported, “Nelson also told reporters that he is waiting for antiabortion groups back home in Nebraska to weigh in.”

In other words, instead of reading the Casey measure and making up his mind, Nelson wants to know if opponents of abortion rights back home will accept it — effectively letting the Nebraska Right to Life Committee decide whether the U.S. Senate can vote up or down on health care reform.