“This weekend, I will vote for the motion to proceed to bring that debate onto the Senate floor," Nelson said in a statement. “The Senate should start trying to fix a health care system that costs too much and delivers too little for Nebraskans.”
Nelson's declaration eliminates one of the question marks facing Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-Nev.) leading up to the vote, set for Saturday night. Democratic Sens. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (La.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) have not yet stated their positions but both have hinted in recent days they are leaning toward supporting the vote.
Bringing the three centrist Democrats on board would enable Reid to move the healthcare reform push one crucial step forward and begin actually debating and amending the bill when Congress returns from its weeklong Thanksgiving break.
But Nelson also made clear that, like other Democratic senators from the liberal and centrist camps, he is not ready to endorse the bill itself in its current form.
“Throughout my Senate career I have consistently rejected efforts to obstruct. That's what the vote on the motion to proceed is all about,” Nelson said. “It is not for or against the new Senate health care bill released Wednesday.”
Nelson has specifically criticized the provisions blocking federal dollars from funding abortion as inadequate and opposes the creation of a government-run public option insurance program, for instance.
Moreover, Nelson left the door open to participating in a Republican filibuster of the bill when the time arrives to move toward actually passing it. “In my first reading, 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,” he said.
“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 said.
That argument does not wash with Republicans, however, who have made clear they will paint any yes vote during the healthcare reform debate, procedural or otherwise, as a vote for the entire bill.