Nelson Playing Possum?
Chuck Schumer remarked yesterday on the dynamic facing moderate Dems with respect to health care and the public option:
So if you have a conference committee where the House has it strongly, almost rock solid, in their bill, and the Senate...if we don't have it in the bill there are 54, 55, 56 Democratic senators for it, how are they going to report back a bill without it?
This is the key question. Everybody wants to agree on jettisoning the public option, but the debate got so far away from the White House and Congress that the public option became synonymous with reform, and now nobody wants to be the one to excise it from the bill. You've even got Shep Smith going off script and slamming Republicans for distorting the public option debate. Nobody wants to put the stake through its heart.
But before everyone congratulates themselves on how health care reform "won" because conservaDems wouldn't dare to kill it, check out what Ben Nelson told Brian Beutler earlier today:
With a 60-seat majority in the Senate, Democrats are poised, theoretically, to prevent Republicans from filibustering key agenda items. Liberals and health care reformers see that as a potential bulwark against Republican obstruction and are pressuring party leaders to enforce unanimity on key cloture votes, so that nominations and major bills (like health care) can be decided by a simple majority. And just how are they doing on that score?
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), one of the Senate's most visible centrists, tells me leadership hasn't said anything about it to him.
I asked, "Has leadership been in discussions with you and other moderates about voting with the party on procedural votes?"
In a statement that will bedevil liberals, he responded, "I don't know about others, but not with me."
There's almost no way that's true. And if it is, the Democratic leadership should collectively resign. There's almost nobody in the caucus whose vote needs to be assured OTHER than Ben Nelson. My suspicion is that Nelson is deliberately misreading what's been said to him to set himself up with the ability to leverage his opposition into concessions. With 60 Democratic votes, it really only takes one to vote down cloture. Everybody has the potential to demand something from reform. And Nelson is just allowing that to continue.
Meanwhile, he's being smartly squeezed back at home:
The Nebraska Democratic Party put the state's senior senator, Ben Nelson, in an awkward spot on Saturday by passing a resolution making support for a government-run insurance option a central aspect of its platform.
In a nearly unanimous vote at a committee meeting in Fort Omaha Metro Community College, about 70 attendees approved language that urges members of Congress "to vote for such health care reform proposals that contain a robust public option at all stages of the legislative process including conference and reconciliation, and encourage legislators to pass such reform."
Nelson remains one of the highest-profiled U.S. Senate Democratic holdouts on the public plan, even recently declining to commit to voting against a Republican filibuster of legislation that included the provision.
Officials at the Nebraska Democratic Party said the committee vote was not meant as a rebuke of the senator, who has historically taken a conservative approach to public policy issues. More an encouragement to all Democratic state legislators.
North Dakota Democrats just did the same thing, putting pressure on Kent Conrad - the resolution actually supports single payer with a public option as a "fallback". I don't know if these Senators are reachable, even by their home states, but it's worth a shot.
Point being, I don't think we can just assume that the Dems have 60 locked up for cloture just yet. There's a long way to go.