Moderate Democrats pose obstacle for passing health insurance reform

December 10th, 2009

As the health care debate continues to intensify in the Senate, it has become evident that bipartisan support is highly unlikely.

Therefore, the Democratic leadership is focusing on keeping the Democratic caucus united in order to reach the crucial number of 60 votes needed for passage.

This pursuit of 60 votes will undoubtedly be a challenge, as there exist four moderate Senators of the Democratic caucus that have openly expressed reservations towards the health care bill in its current form.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has recently become an integral part of the political compromising process that has occurred among the ranks of the Democrats. Landrieu was able to secure an additional $1 million of Medicaid funding for her state in exchange for her vote to move toward debate on the health care legislation.

Although she voted for the motion to begin debate, Landrieu has said that she does not favor the current version of the bill, which contains the public option. However, she has expressed an openness toward a trigger option.

According to, Landrieu said, “Our caucus now is in the process of negotiating with ourselves because we need all sixty of us to get this done.”

Similar to Landrieu, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) has come out against the public option. According to CNN, Lincoln said, “I don’t support a public option that is government-run or government-funded.”

This moderate Democrat faces a tough re-election bid in 2010, and will be the center of attention from interest groups on both the left and the right. Although she does not support the liberal-favored public option, there does exist room for compromise. Lincoln has made it known that some sort of trigger option could be appealing.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has taken a different approach of opposition. Besides having has some doubts about a public option, Nelson’s main concern rests with the issue of abortion.

He has long been a pro-life Democrat and favors the House amendment, created by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), that calls for more restrictions on the use of federal subsidies in the public option and market exchange programs to cover abortions.

If a Stupak-type of amendment is not present in the final form of the bill, Nelson’s support of health care reform could be in jeopardy.

Former Democrat-turned-Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut remains steadfast in his total opposition to any type of a public option.

The 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate has recently been a source of frustration for the Democratic Party. During the 2008 presidential election, Lieberman actively campaigned for Republican candidate John McCain.

Now Lieberman seems to be disinclined to negotiate unless the public option is completely off the table. According to CNN, Lieberman said, “The better political compromise is to get the public option out of there.”

Whereas other moderate Democrats have been willing to listen to versions of the reform that include a trigger or state opt-in mechanisms, Lieberman has taken a hard-line stance that has put him at odds against the Senate’s Democratic leadership of Harry Reid and Dick Durbin.

With Lieberman, an unlikely candidate for the sixtieth vote needed for passage, Democrats will most likely need to produce a bill that can gain the support of moderate Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

According to Larry Schwab, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “This creates an extremely difficult problem for Harry Reid and Pres. Obama. They have to walk a tight rope. If they give into the moderates it could anger the liberal Democrats.”

The White House is also expected to increase its involvement in the negotiations among moderate and liberal Democrats in order to deliver on this top domestic priority.

On Sunday, Pres. Barack Obama visited Capitol Hill to meet with the Democratic Caucus to urge his party to pass health care reform.