Sen. Nelson Says Even If Abortion Language Is Fixed, It's 'Not Enough' for Him to Vote For the Senate Health-Care Bill

By Karen Schuberg | December 20, 2009 | 5:07 PM EST

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill following passage of the $1.1 trillion spending bill in Washington on Dec. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

( – Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said that even if the Senate health-care bill were amended to bar federal funding of health plans covering abortion, that alone would not be reason enough to vote for the bill.
“As it is right now, I can’t and don’t (support the health care bill,)” Nelson said on a Nebraska radio show last week.
When asked if he would vote to go along with the bill should the abortion issue be solved to his satisfaction, Nelson responded: “No. There are other substantive issues.”
The Nebraska Democrat explained that the fact that the bill authorizes federal taxpayer funding of health plans which cover abortion is enough to warrant opposition.
“That alone is reason not to vote for cloture, because the long-standing Hyde rule should not be weakened in any respect with regard to federal funding of abortion, either directly or indirectly -- that should remain intact,” Nelson said.
“I think the Stupak language, which was adopted in the House version, is the right language. I know others are trying to work on and improve it, but I don't know if they will be successful."
The Hyde Amendment, which has applied to federal health programs for over three decades, bars federal funds being used for abortions through the annual Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill except in the cases of rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life.
On Tuesday, Dec. 8, on a 54-45 vote, the Senate voted to table – or essentially kill -- an amendment sponsored by Nelson that would have applied the Hyde Amendment language to the Senate health care bill. Like the amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in the House of Representatives, which passed in that chamber, Nelson’s proposal would have explicitly prohibited any federal money from paying for any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion.
The Senate health- care bill as it currently stands mandates that at least one health insurance plan offered through a government exchange -- which receives taxpayer subsidies—must cover those abortions that are prohibited from receiving federal funding under the Hyde Amendment.
The Senate bill, the “Patient Protection and affordable Care Act,” requires the secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure that at least one health insurance plan offered in government-regulated insurance exchanges -- where people will be able to purchase health insurance using government subsidies -- provides abortion coverage.
(The language is contained on page 120 of the 2,074-page legislation, in a section headlined “Assured Availability of Varied Coverage Through Exchanges.”
(It states: “The Secretary shall assure that with respect to qualified health plans offered in any Exchange established pursuant to this title—(I) there is at least one such plan that provides coverage of services described in clauses (i) and (ii) of subparagraph (B); and (II) there is at least one such plan that does not provide coverage of services described in subparagraph (B)(i)."
(The clause “(i)” of “subparagraph (B)” referred to in this passage defines those types of abortions currently banned from receiving federal funding under the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for all abortions except those done in cases of rape, incest and a threat to the life of the mother.)
Seven Democrats and 38 Republicans voted against tabling Nelson’s amendment, while 52 Democrats and two Republicans voted for tabling the amendment and thus ending it.
Nelson said he understands the push by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s push to get the health-care bill passed by Christmas.
"I accept the idea of deadlines and the pressure that that creates because sometimes that helps you get something done,” Nelson said. “People work in many ways better under pressure than not, but a deadline and a timeline that's out there that not achievable isn't helpful."
But Nelson said it doesn’t seem likely that a compromise version that he supports could be reached before the end of the year.
“I can't tell you that they couldn't come up with something that was satisfactory on abortion between now and then and solve all the other issues that I've raised to them, but I don't see how,” Nelson said. “So, I'm less interested in a deadline than I am in getting it right or trying to go back to the drawing board in some areas."
Speaking to priorities, Nelson said: “The first order is to get costs under control. If you don't get costs under control under the current system, adding more people just makes the problem bigger.”
“Right now, I’m more focused on what I’m going to do here with health care and continuing to try to reform the reform bill, make improvements on it to see if we can get it in a position, into the shape where I can support it, because as it is right now, I can’t and don’t,” he said.