Ben Nelson Ready to Let Health Debate Begin

Nov 18, 2009 4:19pm

Senator Ben Nelson has sent out his strongest signal yet that he won’t join Republicans to
block floor consideration of Harry Reid’s health care bill.  With Reid set to present the legislation
to his Caucus this afternoon at five, Democratic sources tell me that Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas
is the last holdout Reid has to convince.

My colleague Z. Byron Wolf has more:

Sen. Ben Nelson has been one of the biggest question marks for Democrats on health reform and, while still undecided, he seemed inclined today to bring a Democratic bill to the floor later this week.

The first test of Sen. Harry Reid’s health reform bill – to be released later tonight – will be a cloture vote Saturday by Senators on whether even to start debating the bill. With Republicans seemingly united against the bill, Reid will need all 60 Democrats to vote against the filibuster.

Nelson, who met earlier today with other moderates and Reid just off the Senate floor -  wants to see Reid’s full bill and have several days to digest it before he decides how he’ll vote on Saturday.

But Nelson also includes in his statement below a lesson on procedural votes. His vote Saturday won’t be a vote for or against Reid’s bill, but rather a vote on whether to debate it.

“It is a motion to start debate on a bill and to try to improve it,” says Nelson in a paper statement. “If you don’t like the bill, then why would you block your own opportunity to amend it? Why would you stop senators from doing the job they’re elected to do—debate, consider amendments, and take action on an issue affecting every American?” Listen to the full audio of Nelson’s statement here.

This would appear to be an evolution in Nelson’s thinking.

Last week Nelson told Jon Karl in ABC’s Subway Series that “"Faced with a decision about whether or not to move a bill that is bad, I won't vote to move it.”

Needless to say – and Nelson got a personal read-thru of what will be in Reid’s bill before releasing this statement – Nelson’s latest thinking on cloture is good news for Reid.

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