Washington After marathon talks, the Obama administration and Democratic leaders appeared near agreement with Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson late Friday night to provide the crucial 60th vote needed for Senate passage of health care legislation.
Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to unveil a final package of changes in the long-debated legislation today “and is confident that it will prevail,” his spokesman, Jim Manley, said in a late-night statement.
Nelson, the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, has been seeking fresh concessions to restrict access to abortion coverage in the legislation, as well as more money for his home state of Nebraska and other changes.
He told reporters “real progress” had been made, but he offered no details and said nothing final had emerged from the talks.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a supporter of the bill who took part in the negotiations, also sounded pleased. “I’ve been in Harry Reid’s office for 13 hours and I’m glad to get out of there,” he said. “But I’m particularly glad with what has happened in that office.”
With Nelson’s vote, President Barack Obama’s Senate allies would have the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster by Republicans determined to defeat the bill. Without it, the prospect was far less certain, with Reid ready to initiate a series of steps today, culminating in further debate the next day and a critical test vote shortly after midnight Sunday. Democrats hope for final passage before Christmas.
That gave Nelson enormous leverage as he pressed for concessions that included stronger restrictions on abortions to be covered by insurance policies offered in a newly overhauled health care system. Officials said he was also seeking to ease the impact of a proposed insurance industry tax on nonprofit companies, as well as win more federal funds to cover Nebraska’s cost of treating patients in Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor. These officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the administration and Democratic leaders had offered concessions on those points.
The Nebraska Democrat has already rejected one proposed offer on abortions as insufficient, and the presence in the talks of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., indicated additional changes were on the table.
Boxer has a strong record in favor of abortion rights. She told reporters as she left the Capitol at the end of the evening there had been progress made on the issue of separating personal funds, which may be used to pay for abortions, from federal funds, which may not.