Sometime soon, maybe this week,* the Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote on the health care reform bill it spent the last two weeks debating. Inside and outside the committee, people following this process more closely than I am say the bill is likely to pass. But it's not yet a sure thing.
The committee roster is thirteen Democrats, ten Republicans. Majority vote rules. Chairman Max Baucus can afford to lose one Democrat, even if all of the committee Republicans vote against it. But if he loses two, then he needs to pick up at least one Republican.
What follows is a run-down of the five senators whose votes remain in question, based on conversations with sources over the weekend.
Bill Nelson: The Baucus bill, like the other reform bills in Congress, would finance expansions of coverage in part by taking away subsidies from the private insurers who provide so-called "Medicare Advantage" programs.
Experts are in broad agreement that the subsidies are a waste of money. But, once those subsidies disappear, some of the insurers will probably decide to stop offering the plans, because the profits aren't so great anymore. That will leave some unhappy seniors, many of them Nelson's constituents in Florida.
While the committee passed an amendment last week to cushion the blow, some disruption is inevitable. Even so, Nelson--a former state insurance commissioner whose got plenty of experience dealing with unsavory insurance companies--seems like a yes vote at this point.
Blanche Lincoln: In an August poll, the approval rating for Obama was down to 40 percent and support for the health care plan was at 29 percent. Lincoln herself was at 36 percent approval, in a statistical tie with her likely Republican opponents for re-election next year. But Lincoln has had good things to say about the Baucus bill and her votes in committee suggests she's leaning that way.
Jay Rockefeller: Few senators have criticized the Baucus bill more vocally, and persistently, than Rockefeller. Despite his seniority and a career spent working on health care, he was on the outside looking in while Baucus crafted his compromise with the bipartisan "Gang of Six." But it wasn't just process that angered Rockefeller: It was substance, too.
The Baucus bill, Rockefeller said, wasn't sufficiently generous, did damage to programs for the poor, and lacked a public insurance option. After agonizing for weeks over how to vote, Rockefeller as recently as last week was making noises as if he planned to vote no.
But a deal to protect benefits poor children now have, coupled with a change to the excise tax on insurance companies that will protect West Virginia coal miners, seems to have made a big difference. He, too, seems more likely to vote yes than no at this point.
Olympia Snowe: The Baucus bill has, in some respects, beome the Baucus-Snowe bill. She didn't want a requirement that all employers provide coverage or pay a fee; that provision is gone. She didn't want a true public plan; that's gone. She didn't want serious penalties for individuals who decline to get insurance. That's gone too.
Two weeks ago, some sources were suggesting she would vote no, to preserve her leverage. She still could. But the buzz, for whatever that is worth, is that she won't.
Ron Wyden: He's the biggest wild card of all.
Like Rockefeller, he has a personal gripe: After spending two years trying to craft his own bipartisan proposal, Baucus all but shut him out of negotiations. And, like Rockefeller, the personal gripe is connected to a more serious, substantive one: Wyden wants to make sure people with employer-sponsored insurance can turn down the plans their employers pick and, instead, buy coverage directly through the new insurance exchanges being set up to serve individuals and small businesses. (Wyden, like most Democrats, also wants to make the plan more generous, so that it better protects people from financial harm.)
The White House is heavily engaged here, as it is with other wavering votes:. Over the last week, several members of the administration have lobbied Wyden personally. But, as of the weekend, he hadn't clearly signaled his intentions in one way or the other.
To be clear, those five aren't the only committee members with serious qualms about the bill. (Sources have said Robert Menendez' vote is a bit shaky, though he seems now to be a yes, as well.) Charles Schumer, Debbie Stabenow, and other Democrats are not happy about the affordability provisions. But they are likely to vote yes, in the hopes they can win changes later in the legislative process. Time's Karen Tumulty has more on those possibilities.
*I originally wrote that a vote was likely on Tuesday. Now I'm hearing it won't be until later in the week, at the earliest, in order to wait for a full score from the Congressional Budget Office. Meanwhile, Ezra Klein notes that these "swing" voters are unlikely to vote no if it'd actually stop legislation; they'd vote no only if passage were a sure thing. He's right. Remember, Baucus can lose any two of the people above and still get his bill through.