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Senate Leaders Seek 60 Votes to Start Reform Debate

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, November 17, 2009

As of Monday, no Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost numbers for the Senate healthcare reform bill had been released. However, even without those CBO numbers (which could be released as early as today), activity behind the scenes on the Senate side appears to show that no one is complacently waiting for the Thanksgiving break to roll around, especially Democrats.

The goal is to have a bill passed by the Senate by Christmas.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that he wants the healthcare debate to formally begin this week. However, the earliest that the Senate would be likely to vote on starting the debate would be Friday; Saturday or Sunday also could be plausible. Reid had indicated he would consider a break for Thanksgiving week, but that could change as well.

If the Democrats get the needed 60 votes to move ahead and thwart a filibuster, amendments would probably be considered at the earliest on Nov. 30—the Monday after Thanksgiving. Speaking on a radio show on Monday, Sen. Thomas Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, thought that the 60 votes were there.

Currently, the Senate has 58 Democratic senators and two independent senators, who usually vote with the Democrats. However, while it seems simple, 60 may still seem like a challenging number.

For instance, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), now the longest-serving senator, has been ill in recent months and not in attendance for many votes. Also, some senators have remained noncommittal in terms of voting for a reform bill, especially one with a public insurance option, such as Senators Blanche Lincoln (R-AR), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

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