The votes in play

THE VOTES IN PLAY…. It’s pretty early in the debate over health care reform on the Senate floor — they just got started yesterday — but we already know how most of the chamber will vote on the final bill. The result will be decided on the decisions of about a half-dozen members, whose every move will draw scrutiny as the process unfolds.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), for example, continues to cause trouble.

If it seemed like the congressional row over abortion coverage in health care reform had ebbed, it was probably just an artifact of Thanksgiving recess. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is charging ahead, and plans to introduce an amendment to the Senate health care bill in the spirit, if not the precise letter, of the controversial Stupak amendment.

“It’s as identical to Stupak as it can be,” Nelson told CongressDaily.

That’s disappointing, of course, since the Stupak language is a disaster, but let’s not forget that Nelson’s amendment has no realistic shot at passing. It’ll need 60 votes, and it won’t come close. Unless Nelson can convince every Republican (which is unlikely since Snowe and Collins are pro-choice) and pick up 20 Democratic votes (he might get five or six), he’ll be spinning his wheels on this.

Next up is Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who hasn’t been especially receptive to overtures, but who apparently is now open, at least a little, to persuasion.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has asked top administration officials to make certain changes to the bill, as part of discussions that suggest her vote is up for grabs.

Collins met Monday with White House health reform director Nancy-Ann DeParle and HHS health reform director Jeanne Lambrew. The senator said she put several amendment requests on the table: raising the penalty on hospitals with high rates of hospital-acquired infections; changing the small business tax credit to prevent it from discouraging hiring and increasing wages; and boosting the affordability of insurance.

If Collins is convinced that reform will end up passing, she may be looking for a way to get back in the game. Something to keep an eye on.

And then there’s Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who praised both the reform bill and Majority Leader Harry Reid today.

Reacting to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of Reid’s bill that showed that insurance premiums would stay the same or go down for Americans who access coverage from large-group plans, Lieberman said the results are positive given Reid’s bill would also extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. […]

“I think when you consider the fact that Sen. Reid’s proposals covers 30 million more people with insurance than are covered now, it’s quite an accomplishment to do that without raising premiums,” Lieberman told reporters Tuesday.

Lieberman then immediately reiterated his intention to join Republicans in killing health care reform if any American consumers are permitted to choose between public and private plans.