Lincoln hedges on reform’s future

LINCOLN HEDGES ON REFORM’S FUTURE…. It seems likely that the two most problematic votes in the Senate Democratic caucus on health care reform will be Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas. Nelson weighed in yesterday, telling CNN he’s not “excited about” the public option with the state opt-out compromise, adding that he’s made “no promise” to the leadership on cloture.

Today, Lincoln is also hedging.

The key is to ask moderate Dems whether they’re willing to vote Yes on the initial, procedural vote, which requires 60 to bring the legislation to the floor. I asked Lincoln spokesperson Katie Laning Niebaum if Lincoln had indicated to Reid whether she’d vote Yes on cloture.

“Senator Lincoln has not committed her vote to anyone,” Niebaum emailed, adding that “she will have to see the legislative language and cost first and will evaluate it based on its impact on Arkansans.”

Now’s probably a good time to note that center-right Democrats — in particular, Nelson, Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu — will be under considerable pressure. To be sure, much of it will come from the right and insurance companies, both of which would likely consider these conservative Dems allies.

But there’s another element here that these three will no doubt be aware of. Americans have been talking about health care reform for nearly a century. It’s the holy grail of Democratic politics. In a couple of months, the House will have approved a bill for the first time ever, and the political world will be waiting with bated breath for the Senate. The legislation will have more than enough votes to pass, but it will be up to a handful of center-right Democrats to decide whether the bill can come up for a vote or not.

That’s a heavy historical weight, which Nelson, Lincoln, and Landrieu may not fully appreciate just yet. Harry Reid will offer them a bill that’s a compromise of a compromise. It will have passed the House, and the president will be waiting for it with open arms. It will be a vote decades in the making, giving policymakers a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

All Nelson, Lincoln, and Landrieu will have to do is let the Senate vote. That’s all — just give the bill a chance to pass or fail. They can vote against it, of course, but they just have to open the door.

Will they really kill the entire effort? We’ll see.