Does Sen. Ben Nelson Stand in the Way of Health Care Victory for Democrats?

In a statement to ABC News, the Lancaster County Democratic Party in Nebraska said, "While most of the Democratic constituents in Lancaster County do not agree with Senator Nelson's views regarding women's reproductive rights, the Lancaster County Democratic Party understands that our party is a big tent. Our elected officials are not held to a litmus test, but are asked to wisely serve the citizens of our state."

Americans' view of abortion remains split. In a November Washington Post poll, 54 percent of Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Opinions range widely in states across the country.

Nelson, a former state insurance director of Nebraska and industry executive, has also opposed other measures in the health care bill. He is against a new long-term care insurance program and proposed cuts in payments to nursing homes and home health care providers.

Nelson's top source of campaign contributions is the insurance industry, with names such as Aetna and MetLife gracing the list of his donors. Nelson's contributions from the insurance industry amounted to $636,209, according to maplight.org.

Abortion Debate on the Forefront in Health Care Debate

In recent weeks, the White House has ratcheted up pressure on Democratic leaders to pass a health care overhaul bill. President Obama has repeatedly urged his party members to reach a compromise, saying that this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill.

But the controversial issue is unlikely to fade away any time soon, and some liberal Democrats say that the party needs to reframe the debate to reach out to Americans.

Kerrey, who supports what he calls freedom of choice, said that when one argues that they are right and the other is wrong, "you're not going to persuade anybody that some logic exists behind the argument."

"Abortion is so controversial that it becomes a litmus test vote," he said.

At the same time, the issue -- and the division within Democrats on abortion -- is not foreign. According to Kerrey, had the health care plan that the Clinton administration was proposing moved forward, the same scenario would likely have played out.

"I think in 1993, the issue was very much alive and well, it would've produced very similar faultlines within Democrats," the former senator said. "Maybe there are more today but the Democratic party has always had very large number of active participants in state and national level both as supporters and as candidates who are pro-life."

The abortion debate is likely to take center stage as Senate Democratic leaders clamor to gain full support for the health care bill by Christmas.

Nelson's office did not return calls seeking comment, but his counterparts say they will not back down anytime soon.

"This isn't an argument on merit. This is more an argument on their pride," Rep. Stupak said of his Democratic colleagues who opposed his amendment. "They chose this fight and lost."

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