President Obama's sweeping vision for a health care system overhaul, which barely gained approval in the House last month, has come to a screeching halt in the Senate, where Democrats remain sharply divided and Republican opposition has hardened.
"The amendment process continues to crawl forward, and this historic health bill continues to evolve and improve," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday on the Senate floor.
Democrats need 60 votes to end the debate and pass their bill, but centrists in their party object to some key provisions.
The proposed creation of a government-run health insurance option could be a deal killer -- moderates like Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., promise to oppose it. But so far, there is no agreement on an amendment.
Lieberman focused on other objections Friday, joining Sen. Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a recent Democrat convert, and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine in what they called a tripartisan amendment proposal to curb costs and improve care.
"We need to further reduce cost," Collins said. "Second, we need to increase transparency to give consumers more information. And third, we need to improve the quality of health care."
Lieberman vehemently opposes the public option and has threatened to filibuster it.
"I think it would be wrong and terrible for our country," Lieberman said. "I think it would result in worse health care and more expensive health care and certainly a more enormously greater national debt."
Lincoln proposed an amendment, certain to pass, banning any tax subsidies for compensation packages for insurance company executives. But she, too, reiterated her threat to block any health care reform containing the so-called public option.
"I've been very clear," she said. "I don't support a public option that is government-funded or government-run and that puts the taxpayers at risk in the long run."
Sen. Ben Nelson,- D-Neb., also opposes the public option but is also making abortion a battle line. He demands an outright ban on tax dollars being used to end pregnancies -- but again, no agreement has been reached on how to do that and no amendment scheduled.
Democrats are so far apart on their difference that they can't even bring up amendments to deal with them. It's so bad that, just to fill time, they spent most of Friday on nonbinding proposals that state they should be fiscally responsible, measures that would have no binding impact on health care legislation at all.