Sen. Bob Bennett (R., Utah), the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, predicts that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R., Me.) will not vote for the updated health-care bill recently announced by Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). “I don’t think she’ll vote for this (version),” says Bennett. “She’s given no indication that she will.” Bennett adds that what Reid has hinted publicly about his Tuesday-night “compromise” will lead to “not one single Republican voting for it.” Reid will “need every single Democrat,” says Bennett.
“Reid is trying to get to 60 votes, but I’m not sure he’ll get there,” says Bennett. “We don’t know the details of what he’s proposing. He hasn’t shared them with anyone, so until we get the details, we won’t know how much this costs. The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) has a copy, but they’ve made him promise not to share the preliminary numbers with any other senator.” Still, that won’t stop Reid from letting others know a thing or two, says Bennett. “He’s meeting with his colleagues in conference to explain to them what’s in the bill. Once he’s finished explaining to them, the information will leak out.” Bennett says he hears that the bill is “very comprehensive” and “may include all kinds of changes being made, from exchanges being set up to states doing things” on the health-care front.
Bennett adds that Reid is a sharp political operator and knows exactly how to get senators on his side: “He’ll listen to Democrat A and ask what he wants. They’ll say ‘more Medicare.’ He says ‘if I put in more Medicare, will you vote with me?’ They nod. Reid writes it in. Then Democrat B comes along, he says I feel strongly about the public option. They say ‘I’ll vote for the bill if you take it out.’ Reid says sure. Then Democrat C strolls up and says she won’t vote for the bill if it lacks a public option. Reid agrees and says ‘Fine, we’ll redefine the meaning, tinker with it a little, give you a fig leaf.’ She says she’ll think about it. It goes on and on. This kind of thing has been happening ever since Reid got his 60 votes on the motion to proceed the debate to the Senate floor based on promises.”
So why then did Reid announce a “broad agreement” on Tuesday? “Momentum,” says Bennett. “Trust me, if he had 60 votes in his pocket he would file for cloture today.” Republicans, he adds, “want to see this thing drag on” since “public polls continue to demonstrate that support for the bill is plummeting.”
“I’m not going to predict that this thing will fail, but I’m not ready to predict it’ll pass,” says Bennett. “We’ll continue to offer amendments — all of which are popular with the public — to keep the Democrats on their toes. With every amendment, more and more Democrats are being put in a tough position with the hometown folks. These are not frivolous. They’re aimed at major problems in the bill. We’re just forcing the Democrats to go on record defending their stances. And it’s not just us. Senator (Ben) Nelson made them do that on abortion.”
What about Reid’s weekend sessions and warnings about staying in Washington till Christmas? “If we have to be here on Christmas day, we’ll be here,” says Bennett. “New Year’s Eve? We’ll be here. You can’t pressure us to cave in by pushing this (debate) up near the holidays.”