Friday, November 20, 2009

Reid owns health care overhaul

Senator Harry Reid, left, the majority leader, on Thursday with Senator Christopher J. Dodd at a Capitol Hill news conference.

This one had better work. Defeat is not an option.

Colleagues say Mr. Reid’s extensive knowledge of Senate tactics and well-honed understanding of what drives and divides his Democratic colleagues leave him well positioned to pull off a legislative coup that has eluded seasoned and determined lawmakers for decades.

“I don’t think there are many people in the whole world other than Harry Reid who could do this,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, one of the lawmakers who have been a thorn in Mr. Reid’s side with their reluctance to commit to supporting a preliminary vote to open debate. That vote is set for Saturday evening.

The looming vote is the first of what are certain to be multiple tests of Mr. Reid’s ability to deliver all 60 votes under nominal Democratic control in the Senate — 58 Democrats and 2 independents, and precisely the minimum number needed to overcome Republican blocking tactics.

Whatever their opinions, I do not understand how any senator can vote against debate. Senators Landrieu and Nelson appear ready to vote for reporting the bill to the floor. Senator Lincoln's opinion is guarded. Republicans, of course, are opposed as a bloc.

But Mr. Reid, who is known more as a legislative tactician than as a man steeped in public policy, appeared to have succeeded in fashioning a starting point for the health care fight that left most Senate Democrats satisfied even though all have one quarrel or another with the measure.

On Thursday, Mr. Reid traced the bill’s roots to another Harry — President Harry S. Truman, who wrote to Congress on Nov. 19, 1945, urging creation of a national health insurance program.

But at the moment, the legislation and the outcome are clearly in the majority leader’s hands.

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