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Nelson Continues to Huddle With Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday night was struggling to lock down 60 votes for health care reform, with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) confirming this evening that he remains a “no— vote. Nelson, a moderate who is widely viewed as the last Democratic holdout, has been engaged in marathon negotiations in Reid’s office with Democratic leaders and White House officials on abortion and other issues. He returned to Reid’s office Friday night to resume those talks.If Reid begins the cloture process to end debate on the bill Saturday, as is expected, the first cloture on health care vote could occur as soon as 1 a.m. Monday. Nelson is viewed as the last Democratic holdout on the reform package“We’re continuing to talk,— Nelson told reporters Friday night. “There isn’t a deal.—Reid on Saturday is expected to file cloture on the manager’s amendment, the substitute amendment and the underlying bill itself to get the ball rolling on 90 hours of debate time in the hope of clearing the bill before Christmas Day.Given the Republicans unanimous opposition to the bill, Reid would need to secure the support of all 60 Democrats no later than the first cloture vote. Nelson signaled that an acceptable deal on Medicaid expansion might be in the offing — he has been concerned about the fiscal burden the proposal would place on Nebraska’s state budget. But Nelson said that the abortion issue is complex and that more needs to be done to reach a compromise on abortion.“At this point in time, without an agreement, it’s not something I can predict right now,— Nelson said, when asked whether he expected to vote with the majority on Monday’s expected cloture vote. “I’m focused on getting this right, rather than on a deadline.—Later Friday night or early Saturday morning, Reid is supposed to receive a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office for the bill’s final legislative language and policies. Sometime following a vote on final passage of the Defense spending bill, which is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Saturday, the Democrats are likely to convene a special caucus to review the bill.Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) signaled that meeting Nelson’s demands were unlikely to radically alter the bill. Earlier this week, Reid dropped the public insurance option and a proposed expansion of Medicare to satisfy Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who threatened to filibuster if they were not removed.“All of the pieces are beginning to fall into place,— Schumer told reporters. “We’ve still got a ways to go.—Meanwhile, one notable absence when the health care debate begins Saturday will be Lieberman. Lieberman, an observant Jew, reportedly traveled home to Connecticut on Friday before sundown to spend Hanukkah with his wife.Although several of the votes on the Defense appropriations bill — including two budget points of order — require 60 votes, Reid will not need Lieberman in the chamber since he only needs 40 votes to block the Republicans.However, with a major blizzard baring down on Washington, D.C., late Friday night, Lieberman’s absence from the Senate could become a major complication for Reid if he were to become stranded in Connecticut. Jessica Brady and John Stanton contributed to this report.

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