Nelson will filibuster bill without Stupak abortion language

It's only getting harder for Democrats to win over a key swing vote in the Senate

Published December 3, 2009 6:35PM (EST)

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has been a very tough nut to crack when it comes to healthcare reform, even though it's his own party's leaders trying to do the cracking. Nelson, who represents a key swing vote that Democrats must have in order to defeat a Republican filibuster, has been continuously reticent about supporting the legislation, especially because it currently contains a public option proposal.

Now, he's got a new reason to oppose the Senate's bill, and he's firm in his opposition -- in fact, Nelson says, if he doesn't get the language he wants added, he'll vote to support a filibuster.

Earlier this week, Nelson said he was working on an amendment that contains restrictions on coverage for abortion almost identical to those in the controversial Stupak amendment, which is part of the House's legislation. On Thursday, the senator told reporters that if those restrictions aren't in the bill, he won't vote for cloture.

"I've said at the end of the day if it doesn't have Stupak language on abortion in it I won't vote to move it off the floor," Nelson said.

There's a catch-22 here: Nelson probably doesn't have the votes to get his amendment attached to the Senate bill. Plus,  enough House progressives have vowed to vote against the final legislation if it still contains the Stupak amendment that the bill couldn't pass. But without Nelson's vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will have to convince a Republican or two to defect in order to break a filibuster.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Abortion Ben Nelson D-neb. Healthcare Reform