Taking Temperature of the Health Care Bill

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., on "Face the Nation," December 13, 2009.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., on "Face the Nation," December 13, 2009.
CBS/Karin Cooper

As the Senate struggles to create a passable version of the health care reform bill, Bob Schieffer sat down with three Democratic Senators on "Face the Nation" today to discuss the future of health care reform.

Last week, the Senate came up with a plan to replace the previous proposal which included a public option, a government-run health insurance program like Medicare. The new proposal would set up insurance plans run by nonprofit companies supervised by the government, and would allow people without insurance to buy into Medicare at age 55.

The negotiations seemed to be going well until they ground to a halt on Friday.

Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia told Schieffer that, to the contrary, he thinks reform has "tremendous momentum" on the Hill.

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska agreed that the legislation had seen vast improvements, but said he could not vote for the bill as it now stands because of how it treats abortion. [His amendment to include more restrictive language was defeated.]

"I said I can't support the bill with the abortion language that's there. Unfortunately the Nelson-Hatch failed but I do know that there are some who are right now trying to find language that might be compatible with the language in the House [bill]. That's a tall order for people. I'm not prescribing ahead what they may be able to do," Nelson said.

Nelson added that he had worked on the compromise proposal not because he would necessarily vote for it, but because he wanted to see how much it would cost.

But while much has been discussed about the health care reform bill, much is not understood. Senator John McCain of Arizona said on the floor that he couldn't figure out what was in the proposal that was sent to the Congressional Budget Office. Senator Dick Durbin, who is part of the Democratic party leadership, agreed.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut told Schieffer that nobody knows exactly what's in the compromises, which are being analyzed for cost estimates before being revealed.

"On part of it - the so-called Medicare buy-in - the opposition to it has been growing as the week has gone on," Lieberman said. "Though I don't know exactly what's in it, from what I hear I certainly would have a hard time voting for it because it has some of the same infirmities that the public option did."

Rockefeller said he thought the bill would pass in the end, but it would require 60 Democratic votes.

"I mean it's very hard to pass a bill under any circumstances," Rockefeller said. "I think the closer you get, the more you have to look at the whole bill, the more likely you are to say, 'I have to do this for the nation.'"

Lieberman added that to get the bill passed, the Senate would have to stop adding provisions and instead start subtracting the controversial parts, like the Medicare buy-in, public option and the CLASS Act, a disability insurance program.

On the subject of allowing younger people to buy into Medicare, Nelson said he thinks it's a bad idea, while Rockefeller disagreed.

In the end, Rockefeller was the most optimistic that the bill would pass.

"It's not hard for me to feel optimistic. I do," he said. "Because history calls on us."