Reid defends health care bill deal

WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid defended the health care agreement that Democrats reached over the weekend, saying today that support for the bill will grow once it gets passed and Americans see its benefits.

The Nevada Democrat said some polling has shown that support for health care reform “is up about 10 percent overnight” as prospects for passage have improved.

“The American people, once they have the information, they will be totally supportive of the bill,” said Reid, the Senate’s majority leader.

Democrats say the reforms will remove insurance barriers that make it difficult for people to get needed treatment. Critics say the changes will be costly and will lead to the government further intruding into health care.

The road ahead became clearer after Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., finally signed on late Friday and agreed to provide the decisive 60th vote for the bill that would transform health insurance.

With Nelson on board, Reid had enough votes to roll through Republican filibusters. He began the process that is expected to result in a final vote about 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Early today, senators voted 60-40 to move the bill over one key procedural hurdle.

Reid gave his assessment at a news conference where the president-elect of the American Medical Association, Dr. Cecil Wilson of Winter Park, Fla., announced the group’s support for the latest bill.

With regard to polls, Reid was referring to one released today by CNN, aides said. It showed that support for health care reform has risen from 36 percent in early December to 42 percent in calls conducted Wednesday through Sunday. A majority, 56 percent, still opposes the bill.

Support grew by 10 percent among Democrats and younger people, the poll said.

Reid also defended the deal that won over Nelson. In exchange for his support, the conservative from Nebraska won tougher restrictions on insurance coverage for abortions. He also got a promise that the government will fully fund an expansion of Medicaid in his state while other states get Medicaid aid for only three years.

Reid said the negotiations over health care were no different from agreements that senators reach to pass bills big and small. He noted that for a $600 billion defense spending bill to pass on Saturday, money was added for food stamps and other safety net programs.

“That is what legislation is all about,” Reid said. “It is the art of compromise.”

He added: “There are a hundred senators here, and I don’t know if there is a senator who doesn’t have something in this bill that is important to them, and if they don’t have something in it important to them, then that doesn’t speak well of them.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.