Leaving Democrats one vote short with hours to go, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) declared Saturday she will support a key procedural step to advance President Obama's health-care legislation.
In a Senate floor speech just before 1 p.m., Landrieu said she would support the motion to begin debate on the legislation, ending days of silence on the matter. Landrieu's move leaves just Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) as the only undeclared Democrat, with the other 59 senators in the Democratic caucus backing this early step.
"My vote today to move forward ... should in no way be construed" as signaling what her final vote will be, Landrieu said, indicating that she wants to work on amending the bill on the Senate floor. "Much work needs to be done."
Her remarks came during a rare Saturday session during which the Senate launched the final hours of debate leading up to a nighttime vote that serves as a critical early test for President Obama's health-care proposal.
"Doing nothing is not an option," Landrieu said. Her support was garnered in part by a provision in the bill that would deliver higher Medicaid payments to Louisiana health-care providers.
Shaping up as a cliffhanger, all but one of the 60 senators in the Democratic caucus have indicated their support for this early vote, which, if successful, serves to begin what will likely be several weeks of debate on dozens of amendments before a possible final vote before Christmas.
Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) needs the last holdout, Lincoln, to reach the 60-vote threshold to move forward with the debate. No Republican senator is expected to vote for this initial step.
In line with Lincoln's demand for a 72-hour period to read the legislation, the key vote is expected at 8 p.m. Saturday, exactly 72 hours from the point Reid unveiled his health-care proposal Wednesday night.
Debate began at 10 a.m., with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) - a 35-year veteran of the Senate - discussing the decades-long effort to achieve national health-insurance. Leahy quoted from Obama's address to a joint session of Congress two months ago, just after their close friend, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), died after a lengthy fight with cancer.
Leahy urged his colleagues to pass the legislation in Kennedy's honor. "What we face above all is a moral issue," Leahy said of Kennedy's wishes.