By Alexander Bolton - 12/03/09 10:44 PM EST
Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said he expected that all but a few Republicans would support the Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb) amendment, which would restrict access to abortions for women who receive federal subsidies.
“Most Republicans will but I don’t think that will be enough to carry it through, it’s a 60-vote margin,” Kyl told The Hill Thursday afternoon.
Republicans control only 40 seats, which means Nelson would have to pick up the support of at least 19 Democrats (or 18 plus one of two independents), an unlikely scenario given strong opposition from the Democratic base.
Liberal Democrats were confident the measure, based on an amendment Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) succeeded in adding to the House bill, would not pass the upper chamber.
“I don’t think Stupak is passing so I’m not worried right now, we’re going to defeat it,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the most outspoken Senate advocates for abortion rights.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier in the day that Nelson’s amendment would be one of the next to reach the Senate floor and that his colleague was trying to round up GOP support.
“Whether he’s going to be joined by any Republicans, he’s waiting to find out,” Reid said.
But Nelson later told reporters that his amendment would not be ready for a vote until after the weekend, postponing a floor showdown over abortion rights.
The defeat of his amendment would be politically significant because Nelson has pledged to vote with Republicans to filibuster the health bill if it did not include the Stupak language.
“I’ve said at the end of the day if it doesn’t have Stupak language on abortion in it I won’t vote to move it off the floor,” Nelson told reporters.
Stupak’s measure would restrict women who receive federal subsidies from buying abortion coverage on insurance exchanges set up by the government.
Without Nelson, Democrats would need to pick up a Republican — most likely Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) or Susan Collins (Maine) — to pass the landmark bill through the Senate.
Liberal Democrats declined to say whether they would support a final healthcare bill that included Stupak’s language.
“We’ll see where we are at the end of the day but I know I’m not voting for Stupak,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).
Abortion-rights activists are not taking any chances.
NARAL Pro-Choice America announced Thursday afternoon that it would air television ads in markets around the country, including Maine and Virginia, criticizing Nelson and Stupak for putting a debate over abortion in the middle of the healthcare debate.
“Why would politicians like Bart Stupak introduce abortion into America’s healthcare debate?” asks a female narrator in the spot, which features a photo of Nelson. “Why are they trying to make it more difficult than ever before for women to buy insurance coverage for abortion in the new healthcare system … even if they use their own money?”