The commencement of debate comes as no surprise. But the tough votes come later. As Nate Silver writes:
Needless to say, it would have been very, very bad news for the Democrats if the motion to proceed to debate on their health care plan had failed tonight. But I’m not sure how newsworthy this really is. The potential hold-outs, like Lincoln and Ben Nelson, are going to have much greater leverage later on, when the bill nears its second major procedural hurdle: the cloture motion to proceed to the final vote.
And there’s some bad news for Democrats too: Lincoln has joined Senators Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman in making a fairly explicit threat to filibuster a bill that contains a public option. Mary Landrieu, on the other hand, sounds a little bit more open to compromise. But this impromptu Gang of 3 — Lincoln, Nelson, Lieberman — could be a tough one for progressives to penetrate.
UPDATE: As though to prove the point:
Senate Democrats pushed ahead with President Barack Obama’s vision of health reform Saturday night – after a day that exposed significant divides in the party that could make it all but impossible to complete work on a plan by year’s end, or even sink the bill altogether.
In a 60-39 vote on strictly partisan lines, the Senate sent the $848 billion health care bill to the floor for debate after the Thanksgiving break, but not before a clutch of moderates served notice that they couldn’t back the bill in its current form.
One key provision – for a government-run insurance plan that would allow states to opt-out of coverage – effectively died in the Senate chamber Saturday, as the last two Democratic holdouts demanded changes to the bill. s
“I am opposed to a new government administered public health care plan as a part of comprehensive health care reform, and I will not vote in favor of the proposal that has been introduced by Leader Reid as it is written,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), the last Democrat to commit to a vote for opening debate. Two hours earlier, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) had said much the same thing.
Their comments signal that weeks of negotiations remain on a bill Obama once hoped to have on his desk by Christmas – and even raised the prospect that splits in the party over the public option, abortion and other aspects of the bill could scuttle passage altogether.