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Dems moving ahead on health care

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

WASHINGTON -- A wavering moderate Democrat said Friday he'd stand with Senate Democratic leaders on a crucial weekend test vote on their sweeping health care bill amid indications other moderates would fall in line.

The announcement from Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., came as Senate leaders pushed ahead toward the make-or-break vote with no margin for rebellion on President Barack Obama's signature issue.

Nelson said in a statement that his support for the procedural measure allowing debate to go forward didn't mean he'd support the final bill, but that Nebraskans wanted changes to the health care system. ''The Senate owes them a full and open debate,'' he said.

The nearly $1 trillion, 10-year Senate bill would extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, bar insurance company practices like denying coverage to people with medical conditions, and require nearly all individuals to purchase insurance.

Sixty votes are required to clear today's must-pass procedural vote allowing debate to begin, meaning that all 58 Senate Democrats and the two independents that generally vote with them will need to hold together.

''We are working hard to bring all Democrats together for the 60 votes necessary to proceed to this historic debate,'' said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. ''I'm hoping that we can muster our ranks.''

Nelson has been one of just three question marks in recent days, along with fellow moderate Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

Landrieu has made comments suggesting she'd allow debate to begin so the spotlight is now on Lincoln, who's facing a difficult re-election next year.

Durbin said Friday that Lincoln has informed Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., how she plans to vote. Durbin wouldn't disclose Lincoln's answer and a spokeswoman for Lincoln, Leah Vest DiPietro, said: ''No other senator speaks for Senator Lincoln. She is still reviewing the bill.''