With Joe Lieberman's desire to prevent real reform satisfied -- for now -- the final obstacle to health-care reform in the Senate is Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, who has yet to promise his vote for cloture. He's concerned about abortion, and wants the Senate bill to restrict federal funding for abortion further than the status quo-preserving compromise proposed by Sen. Bob Casey; Nelson would prefer that the bill roll back abortion access, much as the Stupak amendment does in the House bill. Nelson already tried to pass a Stupak-like amendment in the Senate but was rebuffed when he lost the vote. That has not kept him from grumbling, however, and like any good conservative Democrat he knows that he has the wherewithal to hold the bill hostage until he gets what he wants.
Nelson would be wise, however, to keep in mind what his anti-abortion constituents think -- that the Casey language is good enough. Three religious leaders, including a Catholic priest, wrote an op-ed today in the Omaha World-Herald, telling Nelson that "universal health care access is a moral and spiritual imperative." Over 30 other anti-abortion leaders and theologians endorsed the Casey compromise. The Catholic Health Association of the United States, which runs 20 hospitals in Nebraska, has also issued tentative support for the Casey language.
All this suggests that Nelson shouldn't let his desire to limit access to abortion stand in the way of passing a major health-care reform; if anti-abortion groups can get behind this compromise on the status quo because their religious beliefs compel them to support a measure that would fulfill the moral imperative of universal health care, then Nelson should, too.
-- Tim Fernholz