Democratic Senator Opposes Fast-Track Health Bill
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who is facing a more liberal Democratic primary challenger as well as GOP opposition, said those comments didn't represent a change of heart on her stance against the controversial majority-vote procedure known as "reconciliation."
"I don't support reconciliation! All I said was I want to see what's in it," Lincoln told reporters outside the Senate chamber. She walked quickly into a senators-only area without elaborating.
Lincoln had earlier answered two questions on her position on reconciliation by saying she wanted to see what was in the legislation - without reiterating that she opposed the procedure.
The fate of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul depends on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid securing a majority of votes to push ahead on the legislation, possibly in the next three weeks. Reid, D-Nev., can't afford to lose too many of the Democrats - Lincoln among them - who backed the health care bill on Christmas Eve.
For Lincoln, the issue puts her in the political cross-hairs as she tries to fend off a primary challenger and hold onto her seat in a Republican-leaning state. Her success this fall could go a long way to determining whether Democrats maintain their majority in the Senate.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which hopes to capture Lincoln's Senate seat, had quickly seized on Lincoln's earlier remarks to contend that "Lincoln's shifting positions and constant equivocations are completely politically motivated."
Democratic leaders are looking at a two-step approach to pass President Barack Obama's sweeping health care overhaul in the next several weeks. The House would approve the Senate-passed health bill from last year, despite House Democrats' opposition to several of its provisions. Both houses then would follow by approving a companion measure to make changes to the Senate bill. The companion measure could pass under rules allowing for a simple majority vote in the Senate, thereby skirting Republican opposition - the process called "reconciliation."
Weeks ago, Lincoln had issued a statement saying she opposed that approach. One of the more endangered incumbents, she recently drew a primary challenge from Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in the state's May 18 primary.
Halter has said he supports passing health care with a simple majority, a position he repeated through his campaign's Twitter feed Tuesday, moments after Lincoln released a statement reiterating her opposition to the approach. But at a press conference in Little Rock, Ark., later in the day, Halter said he'd have to see the package of changes being written to accompany the Senate bill before saying whether he could support it.
"I have not seen those proposed changes. I will look at those changes and will assess them and will make a decision based on that," Halter said.
Eight Republicans are running for the party's nomination for the Senate seat.
Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.