Americans awoke this weekend to learn that Harry Reid had gotten the 60th vote to invoke cloture on his healthcare bill when Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska sold his vote for millions of dollars and a tiny fig leaf of a prohibition on the federal funding of elective abortions under the plan.
The old saw that there are two things one does not want to see being made — sausage and legislation — is doubly true in the case of the Reid bill.
Nelson postured as a statesman acting on principle, but he turned out to be just another Washington politician playing “let’s make a deal” in a smoke-filled room.
More specifically, according to Politico, he bargained and got a provision permanently exempting Nebraska from the increased Medicaid expenses that come from increasing the threshold for Medicaid recipients to 300 percent of the poverty level, an unfunded mandate that will wreak havoc on state budgets in the coming years.
It is the mother of all unfunded mandates, and Nelson made sure as the final hold-out that he got a get out of jail free card.
According to the New York Times, Nelson left a marathon meeting in Harry Reid’s office on Friday night to consult with a Nebraska pro-life activist. After a 90 minute absence, he came back to announce that the compromise language contained in the 388-page manager’s amendment was acceptable.
How he could have arrived at such a conclusion is inexplicable. As the National Right to Life Committee has fully detailed in this letter
to the U.S. Senate, the manager’s amendment represents the largest expansion of taxpayer funds to pay for elective abortions since Roe v. Wade.
It claims to avoid direct subsidies through a meaningless accounting gimmick where those purchasing private insurance pay a surcharge, but there is no requirement that it be explained what the surcharge is for, and no requirement that they be informed in advance that that they can opt out. The “opt out” provision offered to states forces state legislatures to enact future laws to prohibit what is already federal law — taxpayer funds shall not be used to subsidize elective abortions.
Why did Nelson hold out for so long, only to cave so cravenly on principle? The Nebraska Right to Life Committee has called his action a “betrayal,” and the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference is now publicly on record opposing the Reid bill, calling Nelson’s language unacceptable. By what reasoning does Nelson claim the bill fixes the abortion problem when the entire pro-life community is saying otherwise.
This episode breeds cynicism and leaves voters with the sense that Washington is completely out of touch with the rest of the country. Up to 61 percent of the American people say they oppose this bill, and yet Reid and the Democrats are rushing to pass it in the middle of the night under the cover of a blinding snowstorm. They will pass healthcare reform — if the public’s views have to be ignored, so be it.
The good news is this process is not over yet. The House and Senate bills are irreconcilable on several critical points. The House bill contains the public option; the Senate bill does not. The House bill contains Stupak-Pitts, genuine pro-life language that 67 Democrats voted for in the House; the Senate bill contains the Nelson fig leaf. Bart Stupak, the lead Democratic sponsor, has said he will not vote for any final legislation that does not include the House language.
What do conservatives do now? In sharp contrast to Nelson, conservatives should keep fighting. If we rally the faithful, we will either defeat this terrible piece of legislation, or the Democrats will pay a heavy price for passing it at the ballot box in 2010.
We will be rewarded by the voters for standing in the gap when there were views of moral courage and philosophical convictions who stood and spoke for them.
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