As part of our ongoing Senate whip count on using reconciliation for health reform, Mike Lux contacted the offices of Senators Tim Johnson (SD) and Ben Nelson (NE):
I talked to Johnson's COS , and he said that Tim is overseas on a congressional trip, and that he would ask him when he gets back. He said that Tim had always leaned toward voting for a public option.
I talked to Ben Nelson's COS , and he said that Ben had never been for a public option and still wasn't. He said that while Ben would prefer not doing health care reform through reconciliation, and would prefer having at least some Republican support for a bill, that if he liked what was in the final bill, he would vote for it regardless if it went through reconciliation or not.
That makes Tim Johnson a "probably" (effectively a "maybe") on question #1 (use reconciliation to finish health reform?") and a "maybe" on question #2 (include a public option in health reform?) Ben Nelson is now a "Yes" on question number one, and a "no" on question #2.
Here are the current whip count standings:
#1: Open to reconciliation to finish health reform?
#2: Include public option via reconciliation?
If all the "maybes" are included, that makes 39 Senators open to reconciliation, and 29 in favor of including a public option via reconciliation. Right now, that is the best case scenario. The "maybes" on using reconciliation are probably all "yes" votes (except Maria Cantwell, who is a true maybe on reconciliation). The same can't be said for "maybes" on including the public option, where "maybes" as a bit sketchier.
We probably won't get many, if any, more statements until Monday. Congress is out of session, and the week is winding down. However, I expect the statements to start coming in fast on Monday and, especially, Tuesday.