Driving A Hard Bargain: Nelson Says He Would’ve Opposed His Own Abortion Language

January 27, 2010 8:52 am

For any legislator who wants to learn how to drive a bargain, check out this stunning interview Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) conducted with Life Site News.

Now that the Democrats have only 59 votes–insufficient to overcome a filibuster–Nelson is providing an inside look at his legislative strategy. And it’s…remarkable. Nelson famously insisted that, to get his vote, Senate health care legislation would have to include restrictions on abortion financing. Now, however, he says his plan all along was to pull a bait and switch: Wait until the House and Senate met to merge their two bills and then push for yet tougher language.

“[O]nce it went to conference, as part of the conference, there was still another 60 vote threshold, and that is when I would have insisted… for my last 60th vote, it has to have [Stupak-like language],” Nelson said.(The House’s health care bill includes language, authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), that would prevent anyone receiving federal insurance subsidies from buying comprehensive policies that cover abortion.)

When the House and Senate have passed two versions of legislation, negotiators from both chambers come together to iron out the differences. The resulting, final legislation can still be filibustered, though, and when that happens, Senate rules say the package must attract 60 votes. That threat, Nelson says, is what would have given him the power to insist on tougher abortion restrictions.

“There were a whole bunch of people who didn’t like the Nelson language – they only went along with because I could be the 60th vote,” Nelson said. “Leverage increases, exponentially, like the difference between a number 2 earthquake, 3 earthquake, 4 earthquake – goes up exponentially like that – your leverage goes like that at the very end.”

Nelson isn’t completely sure his gambit would have paid off, though. And he admits that, if he’d failed, he would have relented.

“I thought my language was good enough if we all failed – I still do,” Nelson said. But the trick is not to let on. “I could have but I was going to say – and this was all the plan – that I would insist that it be” Stupak.

(H/T Wonkroom)

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