From NBC's Ken Strickland
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appears to have a solid game plan for getting the health-care bill passed before Christmas. But it's all for naught unless he addresses some fundamental acts of legislating: writing the bill, counting the votes, and crunching the numbers.
While the monumental votes won't start until the early morning hours of Monday, a Saturday morning deadline looms large for several members of the Senate Democratic conference.
On Saturday morning on the Senate floor, Reid must introduce the most crucial part of his health-care bill, the so-called "managers' amendment." That portion of the bill will include all the last-minute fixes, most importantly stripping the public option and language restricting federal funding of abortions.
But with hours to go, Reid has yet to write a key part of the bill: the abortion provision. Democratic moderate Sen. Ben Nelson says he won't vote for the bill unless he's comfortable with more restrictive language. Without his support, Reid lacks the 60 votes he needs to pass the bill.
Another missing link in the bill is cost. President Obama stressed to Congress that the bill shouldn't cost more than $900 billion and not increase the deficit by "one dime." Again, with hours to go, Reid has not presented a cost estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The guidance from the Democratic leadership is that the CBO numbers would come out today (but we've been hearing that for days now).
For many fiscally conservative Democratic senators like Nelson, Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln, and Kent Conrad, the bill is as much about money as it is about medicine. Would they vote for a bill that has a price tag of $1 trillion or more?
And at last, one liberal senator has not committed to vote for the bill. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said bill lacks a public option and is a giveaway of million of dollars to pharmaceutical and insurance companies. Again, without Nelson and Sanders on board, Reid is short votes.
When the unfinished portion of the health-care bill is finally written, America will have the chance to hear every written word of it. Republicans have again promised to make the Senate clerk read aloud every page of the amendment -- a process that could that several hours. And as long as a single Republican objects, Reid is powerless to stop it.