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Demcare crunch time: Kill the bill and start over; Update: Medicare expansion under the bus?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  December 14, 2009 09:46 AM

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Sen. Joe Lieberman won’t vote for Harry Reid’s health care monstrosity. Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson is also balking.

Let’s hope they mean it:

In a surprise setback for Democratic leaders, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, said on Sunday that he would vote against the health care legislation in its current form.

The bill’s supporters had said earlier that they thought they had secured Mr. Lieberman’s agreement to go along with a compromise they worked out to overcome an impasse within the Democratic Party. But on Sunday, Mr. Lieberman told the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, to scrap the idea of expanding Medicare and abandon any new government insurance plan or lose his vote.

On a separate issue, Mr. Reid tried over the weekend to concoct a compromise on abortion that would induce Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, to vote for the bill. Mr. Nelson opposes abortion. Any provision that satisfies him risks alienating supporters of abortion rights. In interviews on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Nelson said the bill did not have the 60 votes it would need in the Senate.

Senate Democratic leaders, including Mr. Reid and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, said they had been mindful of Mr. Lieberman’s concerns in the last 10 days and were surprised when he assailed major provisions of the bill on television Sunday. He reiterated his objections in a private meeting with Mr. Reid. A Senate Democratic aide, perplexed by Mr. Lieberman’s stance, said, “It was a total flip-flop, and leaves us in a predicament as to what to do.”

Democrats are desperately trying to round up 60 votes and conclude Senate debate on the health care bill before Christmas.

Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill says she’s waiting for the latest CBO scoring:

If the current healthcare compromise doesn’t bend the cost curve and bring down the deficit, it’s “back to the drawing board,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said today. McCaskill said her vote will be determined by the Congressional Budget Office analysis of Harry Reid’s new healthcare bill. “Until we get the numbers back from the Congressional Budget Office we’re all on hold,” McCaskill told Fox News Sunday. “I have to be assured that this is going to bring down the deficit and is going to bring down healthcare costs for Missouri families.”

Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin admitted he’s “in the dark” about HarryCare even though he’s part of the leadership crusading for it.

The Hill gives a rundown of the schedule crunch as Harry Reid’s panic swells:

Reid is expected to offer a manager’s amendment that would include various changes to the healthcare bill, such as a recent compromise to replace the public option with an expansion of Medicare allowing people between the ages of 55 and 64 years old to buy coverage.

Democrats would have to file a motion to cut off a GOP filibuster of the manager’s amendment; a cloture motion on the 2,074-page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; and finally a motion to end debate on the underlying legislative vehicle, the Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act.

Senate Democrats also have to wait for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to return a cost analysis on the compromise Reid brokered to replace the public option with the Medicare expansion and a new exchange national insurance plans to be administered by the Office of Personnel Management.

“The longer the CBO takes, the less time we’ll have to go home before Christmas but we need to finish this bill by Christmas and that’s our goal,” said Durbin.

Reid’s staff have told Democratic lobbyists and allies that they plan to pass the healthcare bill by Dec. 22 or 23. But to meet that timeline, Reid would have to receive a score on his manager’s amendment by early next week and would have to begin the laborious process of filing for cloture on Wednesday.

Adding to the complicated mix, Senate Democrats also have to pass important legislation that would be attached to the Department of Defense appropriations bill, including an increase of the federal debt limit and an extension of unemployment benefits, which have begun to expire for thousands of constituents.

Filing cloture and holding a final vote on this package gives Reid one fewer day of leeway.

So, where’s the GOP leadership?

Here’s GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell:

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, McConnell said the Democrats cannot agree on what should or should not be included in the bill, such as more restrictive language on abortion, disability insurance, a public option. or a Medicare buy-in. “It’s noteworthy that you had to have three Democrats on to explain the Democratic position,” he told “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer. “There are more Democratic positions than you’d find in a stack of newspapers, [and] therein lies the problem.”

McConnell also sought to dispel charges that his party are obstructionists who do not want to reform the nation’s health care system.

He cited opposition to aspects of the bill that, he claimed, would cut a half-trillion dollars from Medicare, raise taxes to subsidize health coverage for the uninsured, and increase health insurance premiums for everyone else. “I think [Democrats] are in serious trouble on this, and the core problem is the American people do not want us to pass it.”

On the matter of a Medicare buy-in, in which those without insurance age 55 and up could buy into the existing government program used by people 65 and older, McConnell said, “Everyone anticipates a lot of very sick people would buy in, and it would exacerbate the problems that Medicare has.

“What we really need to do is to stop and start over, and go step-by-step to deal with the cost issue, which is what the American people thought [health reform] this was all about.”

Kill the bill.

Declare Code Red.

No more tinkering, compromises, or pussy-footing. Stop apologizing for being “obstructionist.”

Fight.

***

Naked Emperor News/Breitbart TV spotlight Obama’s past statements on using Medicare expansion as the Trojan Horse for universal health care:

***

Update: White House wants Reid to deal with Lieberman. Democratic caucus summoned to WH meeting tomorrow.

Update: Hmmm. Are the Dems throwing Medicare expansion under the bus? Looks like it. For now:

Senate Democratic leaders said Monday that they were prepared to drop a proposed expansion of Medicare and make other changes in sweeping health legislation as they tried to rally their caucus in hopes of passing the bill before Christmas.

After a tense 90-minute meeting on Monday evening, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee, was asked if Democrats were likely to jettison the Medicare proposal.

“It’s looking like that’s the case,” Mr. Baucus said, indicating that the provision might be scrapped as a way of “getting support from 60 senators.”

Under the proposal, uninsured people ages 55 to 64 could purchase Medicare coverage. The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, floated the idea about 10 days ago as a way to break an intraparty impasse over his earlier proposal to create a government-run health insurance plan.

The signal from the party leadership came after the closed-door session to gauge sentiment for moving ahead with a pared-back measure that would not contain elements that liberal lawmakers had sought, particularly a public health insurance option.

Lawmakers and top aides said that the overriding view at the session held just off the Senate floor was that they had come too far in the health care debate to give up and that they should forge ahead with some legislation even if it was not all that they wanted.

After the meeting, lawmakers said they believed that chances were increased for completing a health care bill and that a final product would be a substantial improvement over the current system.

“If you compared it to the alternative, it looks good,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, about the prospect of moving ahead with a measure that does not have a public health insurance option. “If you compare it to the possibilities, it looks pretty sad.”

Democrats were scheduled to meet Tuesday at the White House with President Obama to discuss health care. The party meeting in the Capitol came at a crucial time since the leadership must begin taking procedural steps if Democrats hope to reach a final vote on a health care plan sometime next week.

At a brief news conference after the caucus meeting, Mr. Reid refused to answer questions. He said: “This is like a steeplechase race. The last big puddle is in front of us.”

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the health committee, appeared to be laying the groundwork for a decision to abandon the Medicare buy-in.

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