WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats said they had clinched the votes needed on Saturday to propel major health care legislation to the floor for weeks of full debate, as the majority party’s two last hold-outs said that they would not block consideration of President Obama’s top domestic initiative.
Both senators, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, cautioned that their support on what was expected to be a party-line vote on Saturday evening did not guarantee that they would ultimately vote for the bill itself. And their comments signaled that more horse-trading lies ahead when the vigorous debate and amendment attempts begin after Thanksgiving. Big changes might be required if the bill is to be approved.
Still, the decision by the two senators set the stage for a crucial, preliminary victory and an important psychological boost for the Democrats, who spent the day on Saturday laying out their arguments for the bill, condemning the practices of insurers and decrying the plight of the uninsured in a parade of floor speeches aimed at cementing party unity.
“I have decided there are enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward, but much more work needs to be done,” Ms. Landrieu said.
Mrs. Lincoln, who faces a tough re-election campaign next year, said that her decision was not driven by political considerations.
“Although I don’t agree with everything in this bill, I believe it is more important that we begin debate on how to improve the health care system for all Americans,” she said, adding: “The vote tonight will mark the beginning of consideration of this bill by the full U.S. Senate not the end.”