[Posted by Karl]
Sen. Ben Nelson’s pro-life amendment for ObamaCare — based on the Stupak amendment that passed in the House — is generally being portrayed as a big showdown that threatens passage of the Senate bill.
Don’t bet on it.
Nelson has said he would join a GOP filibuster of the bill if strict abortion language is not adopted — but he always left himself wiggle room to accept less than the Stupak amendment.
No one seems to think Nelson’s amendment has 60 votes, though Sen. John Thune thinks it may get 50 votes. Thus, it is important to understand why the Nelson amendment needs 60 votes in the first place.
Nelson actually has two options. He could push his amendment, in which case his fellow Dems would have to mount a filibuster. Senate debate on the bill would grind to a halt. The other option is that Nelson could seek unanimous consent to bypass a cloture vote, but withdraw the amendment if it fails to get 60 votes. This has been the procedure for the amendments debated so far.
Thus, if Nelson really wanted to demand the Stupak language — and was willing to block the bill to get it — he could do so Tuesday. However, all of the press coverage, with its talk of the amendment not attracting 60 votes, suggests Nelson is not going to block the bill to get the Stupak language.
So what is the Nelson amendment really about? Sen. Tom Coburn probably has it nailed:
Even if the amendment goes down as expected, Coburn predicted Reid would be forced to include provisions similar to the Stupak amendment in the final bill via a manager’s amendment containing numerous changes agreed to by the Democratic caucus if he hopes to win 60 votes.
Reid is holding a vote on the Nelson amendment to provide Democrats on both sides of the abortion issue with political cover so they can say they fought for their principles, Coburn said.
“They’re going to allow a cover vote,” Coburn said, “so everybody can stake their position [and] say, ‘Well, I can’t control the manager’s amendment.’”
The language in the manager’s amendment, however, may well be less — a lot less — pro-life than the Stupak language. Moreover, it is possible (if still unlikely, given the size of the bill) that the manager’s amendment will be the de facto House-Senate conference committee, with the House then accepting the Senate bill in its entirety.
All of which ought to raise questions on the Right. For example, why is Nelson — a Democrat — the one offering the Stupak language? Where are the demands from supposed pro-life groups that Nelson not merely offer the amendment, but force the pro-choicers to filibuster it? The situation looks a lot like the Stupak amendment vote in the House, which provided CYA to faux-life Democrats in return for the temporary illusion of a victory by anti-abortion interest groups. Senators of all stripes get good marks on the scorecards of their favorite interest groups, while the takeover of the US healthcare system proceeds merrily along. Those already questioning the Senate GOP’s strategy on the bill can add those questions to their list.