Senate Health Update

With the Senate out of session for the rest of this week, and all of Thanksgiving week, there isn't much time for Democrats to get a debate finished this year on health care legislation.

"Oh, it's going to be hard," said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) as I tagged after him down the stairs on the Senate side of the Capitol.

Dodd added, "It's the Senate," with a big smile and a chuckle.

And those three words - "It's the Senate" - do capture a lot of this.  The Senate is unlike most anything in the world that you might ever work with.

Some days it can be painfully slow, while on others there is speedy action.

And when it comes to controversial issues like health care, the chances are it is going to be slow.

As for the issue of abortion funding restrictions, which is still roiling the Democratic Party, pro-life Senators made clear again yesterday that they will want to be heard on that subject in Senate debate, after watching the House approve an amendment from Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) last Saturday.

"I have not looked at it yet, the exact language," said Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA), who told reporters that he does want some kind of funding restrictions in the Senate health care bill.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats still don't have any Congressional Budget Office estimates for their bill, which hasn't even been finished as yet, making talk of starting the debate on health care legislation next week seem a bit premature.

That wasn't lost on Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who has made clear he does not want to be rushed on full Senate consideration of a health bill.

"Until I see the bill and know what the bill is, I can't make any decision on cloture on the Motion to Proceed," Nelson told me on Tuesday.

In other words, Nelson won't guarantee that he will vote to allow the health bill - whatever it is - to come up for debate.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid started the procedural process Tuesday to bring up the issue of health care on the Senate floor.

Reid had the House-passed health bill brought up for its first reading, a technical first step towards placing the bill on the Senate calendar.

That will happen next week, which means he could file a motion to proceed to the bill next week as well.

As mentioned above, that motion would need 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.

Stay tuned.

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