Nelson Abortion Amendment Fails, Senate Dems Trying For Public Option Compromise

The Washington Post: "The Senate narrowly rejected an amendment that would have restricted abortion coverage in the pending health-care bill, leaving in question whether Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has the 60 votes needed to move the bill toward final passage. The measure, which failed 54-45, addressed the scope of restrictions on coverage of abortion services for people who receive subsidies to buy insurance. The outcome was expected, but could cost the support of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who has threatened to filibuster the $848 billion bill unless abortion restrictions are tightened. Reid told reporters earlier Tuesday afternoon he would consider other language to allay Nelson's concerns" (Murray, 12/8).

CNN: "Rejection of the amendment means the Senate health bill, if approved with the current abortion language, would differ from more restrictive language in the House version passed last month.  The amendment filed Monday by [Nelson] and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would mirror language from the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives last month that prevents any health plan receiving federal subsidies from offering coverage for abortion" (Bash and Glass, 12/8).

Politico: "The question now is whether Nelson continues working with Democratic leadership both on his abortion concerns and as a member of a coalition of liberal and moderate senators trying to bridge their differences on the public option. ... Nelson told POLITICO last week that he would not walk away from the negotiations if the Senate rejects his amendment. 'No, no, no. I’m a facilitator,' he said. 'If this bill is going to pass without me, I still want it to be the best bill'" (Frates, 12/8).  

Meanwhile, senators continued negotiations over the other hot topic in health reform: the public option.

The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones reports that Senate Democrats "finalized major new provisions to the bill that would expand the Medicare and Medicaid programs. A number of Democrats cited Tuesday as a critical day for the bill, as they seek to send legislation to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in time to receive a cost estimate and schedule a final vote before Christmas." 

A group of 10 moderates and liberals assembled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hoped to wrap up a compromise on some of the bill's key provisions by the end of the day. "The group, which met Tuesday morning, is considering changes to the bill that would scale down its version of a public health insurance plan, allow those 55 and older to buy into the Medicare program and expand eligibility for the low-income Medicaid program. ... But it's unclear if some key senators will be willing to support the compromise" (Yoest, 12/8). 

The Associated Press reports on Democratic efforts to change Medicare: "Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said the idea is on the table as part of an emerging compromise under which liberals would back away from their demand for a new government health insurance plan to compete with private carriers. Instead of a so-called public plan, the compromise envisions private insurers operating under the auspices of the government agency that now manages the federal employee health plan — the same one that covers members of Congress."

"But Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — one Republican who may vote for the Democrats' bill — raised a warning flag. 'I'm not sure ultimately what is the purpose' in broadening Medicare coverage, she said." Meanwhile, "A bid to expand the Medicaid program for low-income people failed to win support" (Alonso-Zaldizar, 12/8).

Roll Call: "[Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.)], who is leading the group's deliberations, said there are four parts to the blueprint, which would replace the public insurance option included in the bill by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) currently on the Senate floor." Roll Call reports that if the group is in creating a plan that will draw "the support of all 60 Senators in the majority, Snowe's vote would not be needed to close the debate and clear the bill off the floor" (Drucker, 12/8).

The Hill's blog briefing room reports on House reaction to Senate's ongoing public plan compromise negotiations. "House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday he believes a proposed Medicare extension is 'an idea worth consideration'" but " ... [t]he Majority Leader declined to say that the Medicare extension was an acceptable substitute to the public option" (Fabian, 12/8).

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