The U.S. Senate has rejected a proposed amendment to the health care reform bill that would outlaw federal funding for abortions. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat, says he’ll vote against the final health care bill because of the abortion issue. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, also a Democrat and a strong supporter of the health care bill, says his colleague is inconsistent.
“We have had a consistent policy of no federal funding for abortions, we’ve all lived with that for many years,” Harkin says. “I think we have a basic understanding in this country of where we are on that issue. To the extent that Senator Nelson wants to change that, he’s out of the mainstream.”
Harkin says “we’ve been up and down that issue” plenty of times. Today is the 11th consecutive day of floor debate on the health care reform plan. Harkin is among a group of key Senate Democrats who are working on a compromise version of the plan. Harkin says he hopes Nelson joins the rest of the party in backing the massive piece of legislation.
“Whether or not he’s going to support the bill in its final form or not, I just don’t know,” Harkin says. “I don’t know what he said this morning. I’ve heard a lot of different things said by the senator from Nebraska. He’s been all over the map on this and he was one of the ten in the room with us forging this compromise so I’ll just say, well, we’ll see what happens when it happens.”
Harkin says 16 amendments to the health care bill have been debated. Six were approved. Nelson’s amendment was among the ten that were rejected. Harkin explains why. “We’re just not going to change current law and that’s what this amendment would do, change current law,” Harkin says.
“I think the current law is something that all of the polls, everything I’ve seen, people on both sides of the issue are willing to live with. The anti-choice crowd aren’t happy with it, the pro-choice crowd is not happy with it, which seems to indicate it’s probably a good position to be in.” Senator Nelson meanwhile, says he’s very disappointed to see his amendment rejected by the chamber.
“Our proposal to insure that the Senate health care bill doesn’t open the door to public funding of abortion was reasonable,” Nelson says. “It was rational because it followed established federal policy and it was right because taxpayers’ dollars shouldn’t be used to pay for abortions.” Nelson says he’s hopeful he and the other Democrats can reach a compromise.
“That is a possibility and that’s why I’ve drawn a line in the sand,” Nelson says. “I still want to leave open the opportunity that if they can come up with something that satisfies all the stakeholders here, we’ll look at it.” While Harkin claims that Nelson has been “all over the map” and waffled on the issue, Nelson disagrees.
Nelson says, “My position hasn’t changed but I am allowing an opportunity for another compromise to be considered even though I don’t know what else could work other than my amendment.” The House has already approved its version of the health care bill while the Senate is pushing the issue in hopes of taking it to a vote before Christmas.