Image: US Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid
NICHOLAS KAMM  /  AFP - Getty Images
Majority Leader Harry Reid says that he has tasked a group of 10 Democratic senators "to work things out" on the public option.
By NBC Senate producer
NBC News
updated 12/7/2009 10:39:59 AM ET 2009-12-07T15:39:59

The fate and shape of the public option in the Senate health care bill now rests in the hands of ten Democratic senators: five moderates and five progressives whose views span the spectrum within the Democratic caucus. The group had several closed door sessions over the weekend, but most of its members have been uncharacteristically tight-lipped on their negotiations.

"I'm not going to get into any details of any type," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., following a meeting Sunday night. "Nobody in that room, neither me nor any of the others have signed off on anything."

Majority Leader Harry Reid said he tasked the group "to work things out" on the public option and other issues. The moderates are: Sens. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Tom Carper, D-Del., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark. The liberals are Schumer, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Russ Feingold, D-Wisc.

"We have had a really intense three hours of discussion and we are not there yet by any stretch of the imagination," Schumer told reporters, "but we're finding a good deal of give and take that leads to common ground."

Nelson said trying to find that "common ground" on a public option fix was proving to be "a very difficult challenge."

"There are some [in the group] who truly believe that you need a robust public option," he said. "There are some who would favor single-payer. And it extends, perhaps to me, who thinks it should be done at the state level."

"That's a pretty wide gap to try to bridge," he added.

The group of ten lawmakers is expected to meet for another round of negotiations Monday.

President Barack Obama addressed the full Senate Democratic caucus in a closed meeting on Capitol Hill, just a few hours before the group of 10 negotiators began their meeting.

But, according to one senator, the president did not even utter the words 'public option' or address the rift it has spurred within his party.

Adding more pressure on the group of progressive and moderates is Majority Leader Reid's self imposed deadline of finishing the bill this year.

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Later this week, Reid is likely to take the first of three procedural steps to bring the bill to final passage, according to a Democratic leadership aide. Those steps will require Reid to muster 60 votes to break filibusters that target various parts of the bill and could take at least nine days to complete.

Beyond the procedural hurdles and the public option feud, Reid may still have other 60 vote thresholds to cross. "Even if we came to total terms on [the public option], I still have some other concerns that have to be dealt with as well," Nelson said.

An amendment offered by Nelson and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch placing tighter restrictions on federal funds being used on abortion could get a vote as early as Monday.

In an illustration of how sensitive the public option talks are within the new Group of Ten, when Landrieu emerged from the Sunday night meeting and began talking to reporters, Schumer followed behind her with a loud reminder.

"I wouldn't say we're close [to a deal]" Landrieu started to tell reporters who swarmed her.

But Schumer quickly told her and other group members within earshot, "The one thing I forgot to say is we're not going to say much to the press."

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