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Nelson: Health Deal Will ‘Stand the Test of Time’

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) bolstered his Democratic colleagues Saturday by announcing he would vote to end debate and pass Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) health care reform bill, a measure the Nebraskan declared “would stand the test of time.”

“Change is never easy, but change is necessary in America today,” said Nelson, whose declaration of support puts all 60 members of the Democratic Conference behind the health care measure.

Nelson announced his decision to a gaggle of reporters Saturday following a special Caucus meeting in the Lyndon Baines Johnson room just off the Senate floor. Applause erupted from the historic room, where Democratic Senators have met repeatedly over the course of the month, including the last three weekends.

Reid was able to nail down Nelson’s 60th vote with the help of Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who worked out a deal on abortion language in the legislation — and after the White House and Reid agreed to load up the bill with provisions directly benefiting Nebraska.

“He did very well for himself,” a Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations said.

Though satisfied with the language unveiled to Members in the manager’s package Saturday morning, Nelson maintained he “reserves the right” to vote against any conference report that changes the carefully drafted agreement.

“This cloture vote is with a full understanding there will be limited debate between the House and Senate in the conference report,” Nelson told reporters.

Nelson noted that he consulted regularly with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who steered the negotiations in the House on similar language regarding abortion coverage, and he appeared confident the language would remain intact.

Republicans opposing Reid’s measure required Senate clerks to read aloud its entire 300 pages, a process likely to consume the entire day. Democrats said such GOP tactics have emboldened Democratic morale as Members continue to work and the Christmas holiday looms just days away.

“It’s like they’ve gone too far,” Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Saturday, noting that in the last several days Democrats have become increasingly united in their desire to come to some sort of deal. “I think it has [helped]. They’ve energized the troops,” Baucus said.

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