- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009

UPDATED:

Sen. Ben Nelson said Saturday morning that he will support the Democrats’ health care reform bill, one of the last holdouts likely to give Democrats the 60 votes they need pass their bill.

Mr. Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said abortion language had been changed enough to meet his concern that the legislation wouldn’t allow for taxpayer-funded coverage of the controversial procedure. It’s likely to put abortion as a major source of contention when the House and Senate bills are merged before going to the president’s desk.

Mr. Nelson’s announcement Saturday morning was enough to convince Democrats they are on the brink of history. The first and most significant vote on the health care bill is scheduled for shortly after midnight on Monday. They hope to pass the entire bill by Christmas.

When asked if he has the 60 votes, Majority Leader Harry Reid said: “Seems that way.”

Mr. Nelson was one of the most vocal fence-sitters, but not the only one. Sens. Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln have said they were waiting to see the perfecting amendment before committing their support, but they are expected to support the bill.

Republicans aren’t taking any chances. They demanded Saturday that a 383-page final amendments package be read aloud on the Senate floor, a rare process that’s expected to take about 10 hours.

The package of changes, called a “perfecting amendment,” includes a provision to allow states to “opt out” of abortion coverage. States could choose, by passing a law, to prohibit the exchanges from selling insurance that covers abortions.

Each exchange will have to have one plan that doesn’t offer abortion. If a person’s insurance plan does include abortion coverage, individuals would have to essentially pay completely out of pocket for the money that goes toward covering the procedure.

“I know these limits on abortion are hard for some people to accept, and I respect those who disagree, but I would not have voted for this bill without them,” Mr. Nelson said.

Mr. Nelson called it “very similar” to abortion restrictions added to the House’s bill shortly before their bill was passed. Those provisions raised the ire of abortion rights supporters who promised to reverse the changes before the bill gets to the president’s desk.

Mr. Nelson warned Saturday that he would not support the bill again if the abortion language changes when the Senate and House plans are merged.

“I reserve the right to vote against the next cloture vote if there are material changes to this agreement,” he said.

The abortion language is one of the most significant changes Democrats added to the bill Saturday morning in a package of amendments.

Republicans say the early Monday vote won’t allow them enough time to read and review the amendments, which weren’t publicly available until Saturday morning. They also accused Democrats of operating in secret, not releasing the so-called perfecting amendment until Saturday morning.

All week, Republicans said they were ready to do whatever it took to stop passage of the Democrats’ health care reform bill, which they say will raise insurance premiums and cut Medicare programs.

Democrats said Republicans were more interested in stalling the process and not offering real alternatives.

Inside the Capitol Saturday, Senate clerks settled in to read the whole package of amendments, which is expected to take up to 10 hours. Outside, a historic winter snowstorm continued to descend on Washington.

Lawmakers started votes on an unrelated Defense spending bill shortly after 7 a.m., when a few inches of snow were already on the ground. At least one lawmaker, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, slept in his office to make sure he could get to the vote on time, he wrote on social networking site Twitter.

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