Tuesday the Senate turned back an amendment that would have barred millions of Americans from purchasing subsidized insurance policies that cover abortion, as Democratic leaders struggled to maintain a delicate party coalition in their push for the landmark legislation.
Both issues have made the $848 billion Senate bill move forward slowly, despite Reid's pledge to hold a final vote before Christmas.
The abortion amendment was rejected 54 to 45. Although the outcome of the vote was not a surprise, the amendment's defeat could cost Reid the support of Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), a conservative Democrat who has threatened to join a GOP filibuster bill unless restrictions on abortion are tightened.
Nelson is one of five moderates in the Democratic caucus demanding changes to the legislation, forcing Reid to balance their concerns with those of liberals as he seeks to maintain the 60 votes needed to push a bill across the finish line. The biggest challenge has been determining the fate of the public option, a chief priority for Democratic progressives.
Key liberals said they were prepared to abandon a government-run insurance program if it would move the chamber closer to a final deal, provided it was replaced with other coverage options and tighter restrictions on insurance companies. "I don't think we're going to get that right now," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said of the public option. "So we're going for as strong a regulation guidance as we possibly can."
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