Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) will attempt to strengthen language in the healthcare reform bill prohibiting federal funding of abortion, he said.
Nelson, a key swing vote on the overall bill and an opponent of abortion rights, specifically said he would base his amendment on language authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that passed in the House's healthcare bill — and ignited a firestorm among Democrats and supporters of abortion rights that quickly spread to the Senate debate.
Nelson said he and other senators, "perhaps" including Democrats, plan to introduce an amendment "something like Stupak" on the Senate floor. The prospects of such an amendment passing, however, are slim. Republican abortion-rights opponents include Nelson's home-state colleague, Sen. Mike Johanns, have conceded they cannot muster the 60 votes they would need to attach the Stupak language to the Senate bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) included limitations on abortion funding in the bill before the upper chamber but Nelson had previously indicated it did not go far enough to prevent taxpayer funding of abortion services and the preservation of the so-called Hyde amendment, a law forbidding the federal government from paying for abortions.
"The only thing I'm talking about is the Stupak plan, which is referred to as an abortion issue but I think the president was right when he said this bill's not about abortion. It's about how you account for federal dollars to stay consistent with Hyde and the long-term federal policy of not using tax dollars or federal monies to fund abortions," Nelson said.
Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), an abortion-rights opponent whom Reid tapped to craft an abortion compromise, emphasized a more measured approach.
Casey emphasized that negotiations over an abortion compromise were continuing, and urged fellow senators to resist sticking to too firm of positions in negotiations.
"It's ongoing," he said. "'Ongoing' is probably the best word."
"I've tried not to draw any lines, and I would hope none would either," he said in reference to his colleagues.
Casey said he's been in touch with Reid's office on the abortion issue and a number of other issues in recent days.