It’s the beginning of a new week, and all eyes are on the senate as they struggle to work on health care reform.
President Barack Obama gave democratic leaders a "pep-talk" over the weekend, encouraging them to continue to support health care reform, but Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson seemed unmoved by the tactic.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who has opposed the proposed government-run insurance program to compete with private insurers, said Obama’s speech was persuasive mainly "for those who have made the decision to support" the bill.
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On the other hand, Sen. Chuck Schumer appears optimistic that progress is occurring within the chamber.
"We’re finding a good deal of the give-and-take that leads to common ground," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), a negotiator on the issue. Sen. Schumer said no deals had been reached, and that talks on the issue would reconvene Monday afternoon.
Although a large gap still remains between those who are for and against a public option in the reform bill, a great deal of the attention is also being focused on the introduction of a Stupak-like anti-choice bill assumed to be introduced by Sen. Ben Nelson today.
Antiabortion lawmakers in the Senate plan to introduce an amendment as soon as Monday to restrict insurance coverage of abortion in the health bill, setting up a showdown that has no clear path to resolution.
Both sides agree the amendment likely doesn’t have enough votes to pass, but antiabortion groups and Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) say they will continue insisting on tough language as a condition for supporting the overall bill.
The lack of a clear meeting point makes abortion somewhat different from the other top obstacle to the bill’s passage, the publicly run insurance plan that some Democrats oppose. There, both sides are weighing a handful of compromises.
On abortion, said Sen. Nelson, "it’s certainly not a lock that there’s language in the middle."
Could the introduction of a potentially unresolvable abortion rights amendment by a senator already on record for not caring for the current health care bill be an attempt to derail the bill altogether? It wouldn’t be the first, or the last time that reproductive rights were used as a political weapon.
Abortion remains the omnipresent irritant of American politics. The country seems to have reached an uneasy equipoise on abortion rights: some, but not too much. Yet the adversaries in both sides remain engaged in trench warfare, with every battle over a few hard-fought yards. Abortion opponents have little hope of overturning Roe v. Wade, but they can try to make access more difficult. Supporters of abortion rights are, for the most part, trying to maintain the ground already won.
Meanwhile, abortion is a handy public-policy hand grenade to be tossed in the middle of any legislative battle by those whose goal is to blow things up. The current fight—over whether the health-care bill does enough to make certain that government money isn’t used for abortions—underscores abortion’s continuing potency as a political weapon.
Will health care become a scorched battlefield that nothing can survive? We’ll know more as the week advances.
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