Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday that he would support a Republican filibuster of a health care bill that includes a public option.
Lieberman's comments confirm that Democrats in the Senate do not currently have enough votes to move forward the health care plan laid out on Monday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Other moderates in the Democratic Caucus, Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, would not commit today to ending a filibuster.
"If the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage," Lieberman said, reports CBS News Capitol Hill Producer John Nolen.
Over the past two weeks, Reid has led negotiations with Senate leaders over how to merge different health care plans into one bill for the entire Senate to debate. He announced Monday he would include in the bill a government-run health insurance plan, or "public option," in the bill but would also include a provision allowing states to opt out of the plan if they chose to do so.
The "opt-out public option" is perceived as a compromise by liberals, but it was unclear Monday whether it would win the support of all 60 members of the Democratic caucus, which includes Lieberman. Democrats do not need 60 votes to approve health care legislation -- they simply need 60 votes to block the expected Republican filibuster.
Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, the only Republican who may or may not support Democrats' health care plans, said Tuesday she would also support a filibuster of the bill as it currently stands, the Associated Press reports. Without Snowe's support, Reid cannot afford to lose any members of the Democratic caucus.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, the Democratic leaders who have been involved in shaping the Senate health care bill expressed confidence that they would be able to work through their party's remaining disputes to pass the bill.
"Joe Lieberman is the least of Harry Reid's problems," Reid said, adding that the Senate has yet to finalize its health care package. "We're not there yet. [Lieberman] will be involved in the amendment process."
Democratic Senators Chris Dodd, Max Baucus, Jay Rockefeller and Jeff Bingaman -- all a part of the health care deliberations -- praised Reid for his leadership.
"I'm so pleased we have a strong public option in this bill," Dodd said. "This is not easy, but [Reid] struck a balance. My hope is we can sustain that."
"I think the leader was very courageous to put [the public option] in," Rockefeller said. "I know in my soul, in my gut, that the momentum is moving in our direction."
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If the bill moves to a floor debate on the Senate, opponents of the public option are expected to try to strip the provision from the bill.
"What Sen. Reid's strategy requires, unless he can get to 60 votes without some of us [Democrats], is some very intensive negotiations once the floor debate begins," Lieberman said Tuesday.
Lieberman has said he opposes a public option because of the potential burden it could place on taxpayers. However, Democrats have crafted a public option that would be financed by premiums rather than federal funds.
Proponents of the public option are carefully watching other moderates in the Democratic caucus to see where they come down on the cloture vote. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), another senator who could potentially support a Republican filibuster, said today he has not yet decided what he will do, CBS News' Nolen reports.
"I haven't decided and can't decide [on cloture] until I've actually seen the physical bill, and I'm not going to be able to see that until it comes back from CBO having been scored," he said. "I'm looking for what the costing is on certain areas, and I'll make up my mind on the basis of that, I'm not establishing a line in the sand or a number. More important, as far as I'm concerned is, what actually is being covered and to what extent it is and how that generates costs."
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said on Tuesday, "I've not promised anything to anybody," when it comes to cloture, Nolen reports.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), another key moderate, said Tuesday she is "skeptical" of Reid's proposed plan.
"As you know, I have not been a supporter of a national government run option, but I'm going to stay opened to principled compromise," she said. "My ultimate vote will be based on how much this bill bends the cost curve downward so the government can save money both at the state and federal level, so families pay less and businesses pay less."
Leaders in the House of Representatives said Tuesday that Reid's inclusion of the public option in the Senate bill will help persuade some moderates in House to support a public option, CBS News Capitol Hill Producer Jill Jackson reports. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he would like to introduce a bill in the full House this week.
Progressive political activists, who pressured Reid to include the public option in the bill, are now aiming to convince Nelson, Landrieu and other moderate senators to support a cloture vote.
Members of the "Netroots" group MoveOn who have donated to Nelson's campaign delivered a letter today to his state offices in Nebraska. "If Senator Nelson joins with Republicans to block an up-or-down vote on a health care reform bill, as a past supporter I will refuse to support Senator Nelson's re-election," the letter says. Donors in Arkansas will stage a similar event on Thursday at Lincoln's offices.
"We will continue to work with progressive leaders in both chambers to make sure that the bill that lands on the president's desk includes a robust public option available everywhere, makes certain that health care is affordable for working families and covers those most in need," Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action said in a statement.
Watch today's Washington Unplugged below, where Bob Schieffer spoke with Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) about the upcoming health care debate: