It's crunch time in the Senate: If Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to pass his health care bill before heading home for Christmas, he will have to broker some very big deals very soon.
The proposal to start a government-run health insurance plan, or "public option," continues to be an obstacle for Democrats, as does the debate over abortion language in the bill. The Senate is expected to start the abortion debate today and vote on the matter as early as tomorrow.
As Washington lawmakers work through the six major steps they need to complete to pass a health care reform bill, CBSNews.com is tracking their progress for you on the chart below. There is nothing to report out of the House of Representatives this week; after the House passed a health care bill earlier this month, it has been waiting for the Senate to do the same. After the Senate passes its own bill, the two chambers can move onto step four and reconcile their two reform packages.
While insisting they remain optimistic about passing their bill before the new year, Democrats in the Senate nevertheless are prepared for intensive, round-the-clock debate. They stayed through the weekend to work on health care legislation, and they say they will stay on the Senate floor through Christmas, if they have to.
President Obama gave the Democratic caucus a pep talk Sunday, encouraging them to keep the process moving. The president did not say anything specific with respect to any of the unresolved issues holding up the debate, according to senators present, CBS News Capitol Hill Producer John Nolen reports.
A New "Public Option?" While the president offered platitudes to the Democrats, 10 liberals and moderates went behind the scenes to hash out yet another potential way to break the public option stalemate. The latest compromise would establish a national health insurance plan operated by private insurers but administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees the insurance options for federal employees.
Senators and the Obama administration are reportedly hopeful the idea could appeal to moderates and conservatives like Olympia Snowe of Maine, the Republican most likely to offer her support for some kind of legislation, and Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who is obstinately opposed to the public option.
Snowe called the new proposal "a very novel and innovative idea," because the OPM has experience negotiating with insurance companies, according to the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, Prof. Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, a health policy expert at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, calls it "the dumbest idea yet."
Other public option supporters outside the Senate wailed that the so-called compromise is a sham.
The 'middle-ground' ideas that are currently flying around aren't in the middle at all," Jacob Hacker, the Yale political science professor credited with formulating the original idea for the public option, wrote Sunday in the New Republic. "They represent abandonment of the public plan idea altogether."
Hacker points out that a majority of senators support a public option, and at least two -- --Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Roland Burris (D-Ill.) -- have said they will only vote for a bill that includes the measure.
5597514Abortion Debate Begins: Meanwhile, the language on abortion coverage continues to be a wedge issue within the Democratic party. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) plans to introduce an abortion amendment to the bill on the Senate floor today. The Senate could vote on the amendment tomorrow, though it may not have enough support to pass.
Nelson says the bill is "essentially Stupak's language," CBS News' Capitol Hill Producer John Nolen reports. The so-called Stupak amendment, named for one of its sponsors Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), was added to the House health care bill with bipartisan support, to the dismay of abortion rights supporters. The measure would restrict health insurance coverage for abortion.
Abortion rights groups are fighting back against the amendment, trying various ways to drum up congressional opposition to the measure: Some groups are hoping to keep a block of liberals staunchly opposed to the measure, while some groups are hoping to weaken the resolve of legislators who have supported the measure in the past.
Busting the Drug Deal? Following debate on the abortion amendment, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) expects to bring up an amendment that could smash apart a deal between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry, the Huffington Post reports.
Dorgan's amendment would allow for the re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada, a move that could save the federal government $19 billion over 10 years, according to nonpartisan analysis. It is expected to get bipartisan support this week.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama promised his health care plan would allow for the importation of drugs from other countries in order to get the best prices, but he reneged on this promise when he agreed to a deal with drug makers, asking the industry to contribute no more than $80 billion to health care reform.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is insisting the Senate consider yet another amendment that could break up the industry agreement. Nelson wants drug makers to give the government rebates on drugs sold to Medicare and Medicaid patients, thereby closing the "doughnut hole" -- a gap in Medicare Part D coverage. The plan could cost the industry $106 billion over 10 years.
Nelson implied he would not vote in favor of ending debate on the health care bill until his amendment had been put up for a vote, unless it is added to the "manager's amendment," the final version of the bill Reid will unveil with a host of changes that could not be added in the amendment process.