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Coburn: Nelson agreement with leaders 'threw unborn babies under the bus'

A number of Republican senators attacked an agreement reached between Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Senate Democratic leaders Saturday, saying it would lead to the eventual reversal of more than 30 years of federal law banning abortion funding.

Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnCongress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Conservative group escalates earmarks war by infiltrating trainings Democrats step up hardball tactics in Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Oka.) said it is “absolutely fictitious” that there is an anti-abortion provision in the Senate Democrats’ reworked healthcare reform bill.

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“The negotiations, whoever did them, threw unborn babies under the bus,” Coburn said.

Nelson had been one of the last Democratic holdouts on the legislation. One of his major concerns with the bill, along with a government-run insurance plan, known as the “public option,” was whether increased government health subsidies and other programs in the reform package would end up funding abortions with federal dollars.

Nelson, a staunch abortion opponent, said for the bill to earn his vote on cloture, that question would have to be answered before moving ahead. Such a measure to reinforce the federal ban on abortion funding was attached to the House version of the healthcare reform legislation by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), which earned the backing of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The federal ban on abortion funding has been in effect under the Hyde Amendment since 1977. Coburn and other GOP senators believe the Nelson agreement will eventually lead to the demise of the Hyde measure and most likely will warrant a Supreme Court challenge.

“The abortion language in this bill funds abortion for the first time since 1977,” said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). “We are told this is a pro-life bill. It is not.”

The agreement reached between Nelson and Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Biden to tap Erika Moritsugu as new Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison White House races clock to beat GOP attacks MORE (D-Nev.) will give states the choice to ban abortion coverage or not in the insurance exchanges the legislation creates. The deal will also separate premiums from insurance plans that pay for abortion from federal money.


That language has not won backing of the Catholic bishops, though, unlike the Stupak amendment in the House. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' Leaving Afghanistan: Is it victory or defeat? MORE (R-S.C.) noted that Nelson stood by himself Saturday morning to announce the agreement.

“He couldn’t find one group to stand by him and validate what he was saying,” Graham said.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrA proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US Former Gov. Pat McCrory enters GOP Senate race in North Carolina Lara Trump leads GOP field in North Carolina Senate race, poll shows MORE (D-N.C.) took umbrage with Nelson, implying that he used his anti-abortion stance to help negotiate a better deal for the state of Nebraska. The manager’s amendment released by Reid on Saturday has Nebraska receiving extra Medicaid funds. In an earlier press conference, the Senate leader called it a “minor point” in winning Nelson’s vote.

“You have to compliment Ben Nelson for playing the price is right,” Burr said. “This isn’t the Louisiana Purchase. This is the Nebraska windfall.”