Sen. Ben Nelson said on a radio interview today that he could not vote to advance the health care bill in its current form, that the abortion compromises being discussed are not acceptable to him, and that even if the abortion issue were resolved, it would not be sufficient to earn his vote if other changes weren’t made.
And asked whether these issues could be resolved by Democrats’ Christmas deadline, he quipped, “Are you talking about this Christmas or next Christmas?”
Nelson made the comments in an interview on Nebraska radio station KILN (listen to it here).
The senator, on of a few holdouts in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s quest for 60 votes, said that he’s working to change the bill so it could get in a position where he could vote for it, but “As it is right now, I can’t and I don’t.”
Nelson said that he still supports including more restrictive abortion language akin to the Stupak amendment that passed in the House, and than none of the compromises offered so far — including one being worked out by Sen. Bob Casey — was good enough. “As it is right now, without further modifications, it isn’t sufficient,” he said.
On the issue of federal funding for abortion, he said, “That alone is a reason not to vote for cloture.”
But he said even if Democrats granted his wishes on abortion, he’d still need other changes in the bill.
He said he had problems with expanding Medicaid to 15 million people, which he called an “underfunded federal mandate for the state of Nebraska.” He suggested that states be allowed to “opt in” to the expanded Medicaid program.
Nelson also complained about the tax increases necessary to finance the bill.
“The way in which money is raised is not acceptable,” Nelson said. He added, “If there isn’t a way to raise money in tight times, I think you have to look at a scaled back version.”
He continued, ““I’ve said, this needs to be handled on an incremental basis.”
Nelson said that he thinks the “first order is to get costs under control,” because if you just cover more people and don’t do anything to control costs, it will only make the problem with health care spending worse.
While he said that sometimes, deadlines were needed to put pressure on lawmakers to pass something, “A timeline that’s out there that is not achievable, isn’t helpful.”
He said he doubted he could reach a deal with other Democrats in time to meet the Christmas deadline.
“I couldn’t tell you that they can’t come up with something that is satisfactory on abortion between now and then, and solve all of the other issues that I’ve raised to them, but I don’t see how,” he said.
And he insisted: “I’m not going to be rushed into a timeline.”
Needless to say, this is a a serious blow to Reid’s efforts to get to get 60 votes needed to pass a health care bill by the end of next week. Many of Nelson’s complaints aren’t merely about simply removing elements — i.e. strip the public option and Medicare buy-in — but resolving them would require a significant redrafting of the legislation.
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