Reid Lands Nelson’s Support for Cloture

Posted December 19, 2009 at 8:55am

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) will vote for cloture on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) health care reform bill, removing the final hurdle within the 60-member Democratic Conference to passage of the legislation.

Nelson was expected to formally announce his decision at 10 a.m. Saturday. Reid was able to nail down his 60th vote after Nelson and Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) 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.

Reid also appears to have gotten an assist from Republicans, who have been waging an intense political and procedural war against Democratic health care reform efforts.

“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.

A senior Democratic leadership aide agreed, noting that, “Their obstructionism is moving us over the goal line.—

Indeed, several Democratic aides said that even Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) — one of the chamber’s more moderate Democrats and an initial holdout on the health care deal — has become increasingly supportive of a deal. According to these aides, during a meeting at the White House this week, Bayh gave a speech arguing that Democrats must pass legislation because, according to one aide, “if we don’t the only ones who win are Republicans, and he doesn’t want to see that happen.—

With Nelson’s vote in hand, Reid introduced his manager’s amendment to the health care bill Saturday morning following the chamber’s 88-10 vote in favor of a $636 billion Defense appropriations bill.

After Reid introduced the more than 300-page amendment, Republicans as expected forced the Senate clerk to begin reading the bill, a process that is expected to take most of the day Saturday to complete.

According to a Senate aide, the abortion deal would allow states to opt out of plans in the exchange that cover abortions. Enrollees using plans that do cover the procedure would pay for their insurance using two separate checks — one to cover abortions and a second for the rest of their insurance.

Additionally, the aide said that new Nebraska-specific language would require the federal government to pay 100 percent of the state’s Medicaid costs “forever— — which is estimated to cost the government $45 million over 10 years. Nonprofit insurers in the state would not pay the insurance tax in the legislation under the deal.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.