Top Five: After Abortion Defeat, Will Nelson Back Healthcare Bill Anyway?
The Senate yesterday defeated a health-care bill amendment that would have ensured no federal funds for abortions. The vote was 54-45—ominous for the health-care bill's supporters, who need 60 votes to end debate. The anti-abortion amendment's chief sponsor, Nebraska's Sen. Ben Nelson (Bob Casey and Orrin Hatch were co-sponsors) had earlier suggested he'd filibuster the bill if his amendment failed, but a comment shortly after yesterday's vote now has some pro-lifers and other conservatives worried that he's backtracking.
The Huffington Post reported:
Nelson routinely seeks out packs of reporters and speaks at length until questions are exhausted, but following Tuesday's 54-45 vote, he slipped out the back of the Senate chamber to head for negotiations between five liberal and five conservative Democrats going on in a room across from Majority Leader Harry Reid's office.
A few reporters waiting outside the door asked him how it would effect [sic] his decision on whether to support the final effort.
"I want to continue to work on this," he said, not ruling out his support, at least "not at this point in time. I want to continue to work on the project we're working on … This makes it harder right now [to support the bill]. We'll have to see if they can make it easier."
(For what it's worth, the more reliable The Hill had the quote as "It's made it harder to be supportive. We'll just have to see what develops. We'll have to see if they can make it easier.")
However, earlier reports of Nelson's filibuster promise had similar caveats. "I will not vote to take it off the floor," Nelson told TalkingPointsMemo last week. But he added, "Now I don't know that it's going to come down to that, because I don't know that Stupak's not going to pass, number one. Number two, I don't know what kind of alternative legislation may be offered as an alternative bill. I don't know what the next steps are, but I've made it clear that whatever is finally considered has to have that language in it."
Politico had a report the same day as TalkingPointsMemo, in which Nelson said, "It [his amendment] is Stupak language. I've said at the end of the day if [the health-care bill] doesn't have Stupak language on abortion in it I won't vote to move it off the floor."
Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown continued: "Asked whether that meant he was intent on stalling the bill, Nelson said: 'I just said that, didn't I? This isn't anything new, I've said this for a long time and people are finally hearing it.'"
Sen. Barbara Boxer's summary to Politico? "I think he has said different things at different times."
Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that he'd work with Nelson to find acceptable antiabortion language for the bill. "I'm happy to continue work with Senator Nelson," he said. "If in fact he doesn't succeed here, we'll try something else."
But Nelson (at least initially) seemed skeptical. "I had no Plan B," he told The Hill after the vote. "Maybe somebody else has a Plan B, but I don't see that this is one where there's really any room for compromise."
The Christian Science Monitor says the abortion fight isn't over. "On Tuesday evening, abortion-rights advocates enjoyed a moment of victory as the Nelson amendment went down. But they know they have work to do," Linda Feldmann wrote. Defeating the amendment, she wrote, "could be a temporary victory. If there's one thing supporters of abortion rights already know, it's that President Obama is not going to go to the mat for them in the battle for healthcare reform."