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Five questions that could decide fate of healthcare reform bill

Senate healthcare reform bill needs 60 votes to advance. Here are five questions that could determine whether Democrats will rally around it.

By Staff writer / November 19, 2009

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (center) listens to other Democratic Senators speak about healthcare reform legislation during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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Washington

Washington's struggle over healthcare reform – President Obama's top domestic priority – now is within days of a historic turning point.

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Senate majority leader Harry Reid says he plans to bring his newly unveiled, 10-year $848 billion healthcare overhaul bill to the Senate floor as early as Saturday. Senator Reid will need all of the chamber's 58 Democrats, plus its two independents, to stand with him on key votes if the legislation is to proceed.

Such cohesiveness is not foreordained. Here are five questions, the answers to which will go a long way toward determining Reid's ability to succeed:

1. Where's Blanche? Some moderate Democratic senators have yet to commit to voting in favor of letting debate on the bill to begin. In particular, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, have expressed varying degrees of skepticism about the costs and possible government intrusiveness related to healthcare reform.

If Senator Lincoln and her fellow moderates abandon the majority leader, the health effort is toast. Reid must bring them into line if he is to have a chance of convincing the notoriously independent Independent Joe Lieberman of backing the bill, as well.

2. Who's the defender of Medicare? Senate Republicans have been wooing the nation's seniors in recent weeks by presenting themselves as the true protectors of Medicare, the popular government-run health program for those over age 65.

The Reid bill is partly paid for by slashing Medicare, said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky in a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday.

Over 10 years, the bill would reduce Medicare spending by almost half a trillion dollars, said Senator McConnell.

"Hospitals, Medicare Advantage, nursing homes, home health, hospice – all of those will be slashed in this $465 billion cut to Medicare," he said.

Yet AARP, the giant seniors' lobby group, supports the bill and on Thursday issued a strong statement urging its passage.

The bill creates a new annual wellness benefit, provides free preventive care benefits, and sweetens the Medicare prescription-drug program, noted AARP.

"The legislation announced today makes progress toward achieving meaningful relief for millions of older Americans who still face challenges accessing affordable, quality health care services," said AARP executive vice president Nancy LeaMond.