There was a report last week that abortion foes were having trouble finding a sponsor willing to carry something similar to the Stupak amendment in the Senate health care debate. I guess Ben Nelson answered the phone:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) will attempt to strengthen language in the healthcare reform bill prohibiting federal funding of abortion, he said.

Nelson, a key swing vote on the overall bill and an opponent of abortion rights, specifically said he would base his amendment on language authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that passed in the House’s healthcare bill — and ignited a firestorm among Democrats and supporters of abortion rights that quickly spread to the Senate debate.

Nelson said he and other senators, “perhaps” including Democrats, plan to introduce an amendment “something like Stupak” on the Senate floor. The prospects of such an amendment passing, however, are slim. Republican abortion-rights opponents include Nelson’s home-state colleague, Sen. Mike Johanns, have conceded they cannot muster the 60 votes they would need to attach the Stupak language to the Senate bill.

When Bob Casey is calling for a “measured” approach, you pretty much know this is DOA.

There’s an admission, even from supporters, that the 60-vote threshold would not be attainable. I think they’re looking for 50, actually. If they can make the argument that a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate support the amendment, they can take that to the conference committee and make sure they get it in the final bill.

Either that, or Nelson is tilting at the culture war windmill so he can extract more concessions for reform by trying to make it less popular, or at least attract a handful of loud critics. A lot of this could be solved by not having to rely on Nelson and his ConservaDem counterparts by continuing to use the club of reconciliation to keep them in line. Or just using reconciliation, period.

David Dayen

David Dayen