Sen. Ben Nelson has said he would support the health care bill, all but ensuring that Sen. Harry Reid will be able to secure the 60 votes he needs to set up final passage on Christmas Eve.
“Change is never easy, but change is what’s neccessary in America today,” Nelson said in a press conference this morning. “And that’s why I intend to vote for cloture.”
Nelson called the agreement to achieve 60 votes “an accomplishment of historic proportions,” but warned that if there were “material changes” to the bill in the conference committee with the House, then he would not vote for cloture on the final merged bill.
Reid was able to secure his support without adopting the Stupak abortion language that passed the House. While I’m still analyzing the tricky abortion language included in Reid’s final amendment (which you can read here, beginning on page 38), it seems the difference is that states will be able to opt out of offering abortion coverage on the new government-run exchanges. The compromise still relies on a “segregation of funds” model with the idea that government subsidies wouldn’t be used to pay for the abortion benefit in an insurance policy.
Meanwhile, Igor Volsky notices that Nelson’s home state of Nebraska was given additional funding to offset the cost of the Medicaid expansion.
Nelson wouldn’t comment on the Medicaid payment to Nebraska when asked about it in a press conference, but he defended the abortion compromise.
The way he described it, if a woman using government subsidies to purchase health insurance wants abortion coverage, she’ll have to send one payment to the insurer to pay for the policy, and a separate payment if she chooses a policy that covers abortion.
Where does this leave us now? The Senate is expected to hold its first procedural vote on health care on Monday at 1 a.m. to stay on track for a final vote on Christmas Eve.
Next month, the House and Senate will reconcile their bills, which will then have to pass both chambers again before President Obama can sign it, which he hopes to do before his State of the Union address. At this point, the smart money would have to be on Democrats getting it done, but there are still obstacles to reaching a final agreement.
“Let me be clear: this cloture vote is based on a full understanding that there will be limited conference between the Senate and the House,” Nelson warned. “If there are material changes in that conference report, different from this bill, that adversely affect the agreement, I reserve the right to vote against the next cloture vote.”
The House is both more liberal and more pro-life than the Senate, and thus the bill that cleared the House (by a narrow 220-215 margin) had a public option and stronger abortion language. Many liberal activist groups have pushed for passage of the Senate bill, while still insisting on a fight for the public option in the conference. If liberals and pro-life House Democrats are insistent, it would complicate any final deal.
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