After what Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) indicated was a tense health care discussion, Senate health care leaders declared, confidently, that the overhaul package that comes to the floor will earn every Democratic vote. However, they also made clear that the ultimate decision maker on key questions like the public option is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"Reid's making these decisions ultimately, and I think he's listening and...I feel good about it," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
"Conrad spoke out for co-ops," Brown said, "six or seven people spoke out for [the public option]," adding later that the pro-public option senators were articulating a policy preference, and not pressuring Reid to act one way or another as he weaves two competing Senate bills together. Nobody, he says, spoke out against a public plan.
Brown's confidence springs from a belief that conservative Democrats do not want to be held responsible for killing reform. "No Democrat wants to be on the wrong side of history and vote on a procedural vote to kill the most important domestic vote of their careers," Brown said.
But Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus went even further and suggested that every Democrat would ultimately vote for the final bill.
"It's clear we're going to pass health care reform this year," Baucus told reporters. "Every Democrat will vote for...health care reform and I hope that some Republicans will as well."
That belief was echoed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who, without getting specific, said that he recently held discussions with two Republican senators other than Olympia Snowe.
"I've spoken to two other Republicans today on health care...we're not writing off the Republicans," he said. Reid has said, though, that if no Republicans ultimately support reform, Democrats will pass a bill alone.
The difference between Brown's prediction and Baucus' could be crucial. A health care bill that has enough support to win the support of every Democrat will likely have a harder time retaining a public option than will a bill that keeps Democrats united against a filibuster, but then loses some support on the final vote.
Asked how the public option would fare in all this, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) kept it short. "We're doing well," Dodd said.