Critical Condition

Shot Clock

Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), chair of the Republican Policy Committee, tells NRO that the health-care “consensus” being touted by Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) is nothing more than a “tweak around the edges” to buy the Democrats time. “The basic contours of the bill are the same,” says Thune. “It has the same premium and tax increases, and simply a new way of describing the public plan. It also piles more people onto the sinking ship of Medicare, the quintessential government-run program.”

“The Democrats are trying to go into the four corners,” says Thune, a basketball enthusiast. “They’re playing the stall game. We’ll be here over the weekend to try and debate, but they’re doing everything they can to avoid voting on tough amendments. We haven’t had an amendment vote since Tuesday. Instead, Democrats have been huddling in the backroom trying to get to 60 votes so they can cut off debate and move toward final passage.”

“This bill has become such a dog in the eyes of the American people,” says Thune. “Democrats know that. That’s why they’re so reluctant to have votes on amendments and [are] spending their time negotiating in the backroom.”

With all of this tension, can Republicans pick off a Democrat or two? Thune thinks so. “It’s a question of whether there are any courageous Democrats who don’t want to play follow-the-leader on a bill that will take the country over the cliff. It looks like, for now, that everyone on their team is marching in lockstep, but public-opinion polls have to be getting them nervous. They know they need to listen to constituents back home, not whatever is being said in the majority leader’s office.”

Thune notes that two Democrats, Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Sen. Jim Webb (Va.), have voted with the GOP on most amendments. Plus, he says, “Senator Lieberman has heartburn over the public option. Democrats are doing everything they can to get him comfortable with that component of the bill.” If someone like Webb or Nelson decides to jump ship, Thune adds, look for a “jailbreak” among Democrats. “They’re barely holding their caucus together. If one or two comes over, this thing will collapse.”

This weekend the Senate will put health care on hold to debate the omnibus spending bill. Thune says this move was political. “They’re losing the health-care debate, so Senator Reid pivoted,” he says. “They want to get health care off the radar screen of the American people for a few days.”

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