Washington – Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of three moderate Democratic senators wavering on whether to allow debate on health care legislation to proceed, said Friday that he’d vote to move the bill forward.
Nelson’s decision inches the Democrats closer to the 60 votes they need to authorize the bill to proceed to full Senate floor debate. Democrats control 60 seats, and are thought now to have 58 committed votes.
The other wavering Democrats, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln, remained undecided as of midday Friday.
The vote is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday. Debate began Friday morning. The legislation, which would make major changes to America’s health insurance system, would cost an estimated $848 billion over 10 years. It would be paid for by cuts in spending on Medicare and Medicaid and by raising a variety of taxes and fees.
Nelson said in a statement Friday that he’d vote to proceed because “The Senate should start trying to fix a health care system that costs too much and delivers too little for Nebraskans.”
He still has serious reservations about the bill, but he stressed that his vote “is not for or against the new Senate health care bill … it is only to begin debate and an opportunity to make improvements. If you don’t like a bill, why block your own opportunity to amend it?”
Nelson repeatedly has expressed concern about the bill’s cost and its abortion policy, which is less restrictive than the measure that the House of Representatives adopted Nov. 7. He said Friday that unless changes were made, he was unlikely to support cutting off debate on the final bill, which is likely to be necessary before it can pass the Senate and which also will require 60 votes under Senate rules.
“I support parts of the bill and oppose others I will work to fix. If that’s not possible, I will oppose the second cloture motion — needing 60 votes — to end debate, and oppose the final bill,” Nelson said. “But I won’t slam the doors of the Senate in the face of Nebraskans now. They want the health care system fixed. The Senate owes them a full and open debate to try to do so.”
Of the other moderates, Lincoln has told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., how she’ll vote, but she isn’t saying publicly.
“I would say to Senator Lincoln that I believe most people in Arkansas would be relieved and happy to see health care reform that gives them the peace of mind about the cost of health insurance and the protection of their ability to fight these health insurance companies,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the assistant majority leader.
Lincoln, who recently became the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is viewed as the most reluctant holdout.
She’d insisted that the health care bill be posted publicly on the Internet for 72 hours before voting, which it was; that time runs out Saturday evening, when the vote is scheduled to start.
Aaron Saunders, Landrieu’s spokesman, said the senator remained undecided.