Ahead of his visit, Republicans, bent on making Democrats cast politically risky votes, offered their third amendment in the debate so far showcasing more than $400 billion in cuts to projected Medicare spending that would pay for the bill, mostly for subsidies to help extend coverage to millions of uninsured.
Like the other two, this one went down to defeat, on a vote of 53 to 41. The measure by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., would have eliminated $42 billion in cuts over 10 years to agencies that provide home healthcare to seniors under Medicare.
Four moderate Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the amendment: Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Underscoring the pressures on the moderates, Lincoln, who faces a difficult re-election next year, initially cast a "no" vote with the Democratic majority but switched to "yes" in the course of the 15-minute vote. Republicans accused her of flip-flopping, but Lincoln said later that she changed her vote after considering how important home healthcare is to Arkansas.
But the more consequential action was taking place behind closed doors Saturday as Democrats struggled to find a compromise on a proposed government insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Lincoln and several other moderate Democrats are opposed to the government insurance plan in the bill, and Reid, D-Nev., doesn't have a vote to spare in his 60-member caucus.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined in some discussions and several senators cited progress on the issue. There was discussion of various options, including nonprofit insurance plans administered by the Office of Personnel Management, which runs the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
"I'm optimistic that something, I'm not sure what, but something can be arrived at," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "It's definitely going to be something that's of a nonprofit nature."
Reid called the unusual sessions as he races to finish the bill by Christmas. The weekend work also allowed him and other Democrats to highlight their commitment to Obama's signature issue, arguing that Americans can't take weekends off from worrying about health care, so the Senate shouldn't, either.
Republicans, determined to stall if they can't kill the bill, weren't impressed.
"I think the majority leader believes that somehow if we stay in on weekends the Republicans are going to blink. I assure him we're not going to blink," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
What do you think? Post a comment on this article and share your opinion with other readers. Submit your comments to Modern Healthcare Online at [email protected]. Please be sure to include your hometown and state, along with your organization and title.