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Nelson: Abortion Can Be Dealt With on the Floor

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) hinted again Thursday that he’s leaning toward voting to allow Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring his health care bill to the floor, rejecting an argument from fellow Nebraska senator Mike Johanns (R) that such a vote was a vote for abortion rights.

“It’s not the language I prefer … but if the bill gets to the floor, that’s one of the things that could be amended,” Nelson said of the abortion language in the bill. “You don’t have any chance of amending it if it doesn’t get on the floor. That’s why I’m looking at voting for the motion to proceed.”

Nelson said that leadership could go to the filibuster-busting budget reconciliation route — requiring just 51 votes — and cut him out if he were to block consideration of the bill. And he said the key vote will be to end debate on the health care bill, not start it. He said that he’s still reviewing the bill and could make a decision as soon as Thursday on how he plans to vote on the motion to proceed.

The abortion language included in the bill by Reid has came under attack from anti-abortion groups, who are trying to pressure Nelson to oppose the bill over it. Nelson is the only anti-abortion Democrat who has said he might filibuster the motion to proceed to the bill over the issue.

Nelson has said he wants something close to the House’s amendment, offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), which prohibits women getting new federal health care subsidies from buying insurance policies that cover the procedure. Such women would have to buy separate abortion insurance.

But the Senate bill unveiled Wednesday night would give women receiving federal subsidies the option to choose insurance plans covering abortion as well as those that don’t. The procedure would have to be paid for with money derived from premiums instead of federal taxes. The public insurance option could also pay for abortions, but only if the money could be segregated so that no federal tax dollars are used for the services.

Opponents of abortion funding have derided those provisions as meaningless accounting ploys, and the National Right to Life Committee said the language is “completely unacceptable.—

“It’s a shell game, nothing more, nothing less,— Nelson’s fellow Nebraskan, Johanns, said in a floor speech Thursday targeting Nelson and other anti-abortion Democrats.

Johanns said the vote on the motion to proceed on the Senate bill “has become the key vote on abortion— because there aren’t 60 Senators who would vote to amend the bill with the stricter abortion language that’s included in the House bill.

“I sincerely wish there were 60 pro-life voters in the Senate, but by my count, I don’t get there,— Johanns said. “Therefore, we won’t be able to change this. If there’s a Senator willing to suggest otherwise, I respectfully invite them to come to the floor, share the list of 60 Senators who are willing to vote for a provision that ensures that the Stupak amendment will be there.—

Johanns noted that Stupak and 40 other House Democrats forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to back down by threatening to block a procedural vote.

“Today in the Senate, we don’t need 40 Democrats to stand up for what’s right. We need just one. If just one pro-life Democrat would say I will not vote to move this bill until it’s fixed, until it’s truly pro-life, that would happen.—Reid, for his part, defended his abortion language Thursday. “First of all, this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill,” he said. He said his language was “satisfactory.” “It’s something that is in keeping with what has traditionally been in our country for more than 30 years.”

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