Senate Leaders In Hot Pursuit Of The Elusive 60th Vote: Ben NelsonThe Associated Press: "With just days remaining to prove that they can meet a self-imposed Christmas deadline and pass President Barack Obama's signature initiative through the Senate, Democrats seeking a rendezvous with history instead detoured to an intraparty brawl. ... All eyes were on the only known Democratic holdout, moderate Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, whose primary concern is that abortion funding restrictions in the bill were too lax. Nelson indicated Thursday he still was not happy but would keep talking with [Majority Leader Harry] Reid, who needs 60 votes to push through Republican opposition." Nelson's vote is now even more substantial because the only Republican who Democrats believed would support the bill, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, said Thursday that the timeline to pass a health care bill before Christmas is "totally unrealistic" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 12/18).
The Wall Street Journal: "In a seesaw day, Sen. Ben Nelson, an antiabortion Nebraskan who is the last Democrat withholding support for the legislation, rejected an overture by party leaders to address his concerns about the bill's handling of abortion. Among other things, Democratic leaders proposed to create a new tax credit that would promote adoptions." Nelson maintained, though, that "his concerns had 'not been fully answered'" and, in a Nebraska radio station interview, "he suggested it would be difficult to vote on the broader bill by Christmas, as the White House wants." The Senate bill does limit some abortion coverage under plans in the national exchange, but it would still allow women "who receive some government subsidies to buy insurance that covers the procedure, though they would have to use their own money to pay for an abortion" (Hitt and Adamy, 12/18).
The Associated Press, in a second story: Although the health bill's abortion provisions continue to be a central sticking point for Nelson, he "also said abortion wasn't his only concern." For instance, he cited the bill's proposed Medicaid expansion as something that "could wind up costing his state money" (Espo, 12/17).
CongressDaily: "Nelson said he has other concerns as well, particularly surrounding a Medicaid expansion, and doubts leadership can satisfy his concerns in time for a final vote before Christmas. He called the expansion 'an underfunded federal mandate' and instead wants states to be able to opt into the expansion or find other ways to provide health coverage for those up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level." He also said "he will join a Republican effort to block a final vote on the bill if the abortion language and his other concerns are not met" (Edney, 12/17).
The New York Times: "Mr. Nelson, a former governor, state insurance commissioner and insurance company executive now serving his second Senate term, is the focus of increasingly intense entreaties by Mr. Reid and the White House. He has met personally with President Obama three times in the last nine days, and daily with Mr. Reid." Many Democrats are reaching out to him to help alleviate his apprehension and the White House has assigned a senior adviser to help address his concerns (Zeleny and Pear, 12/17).
NPR: Nelson in the Nebraska radio interview "didn't seem very optimistic about the chances of him becoming the 60th vote for the bill by Christmas. 'I can't tell you that they could come up with something that would be 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'" (Rovner, 12/18). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.