December 16, 2009 — Negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) to craft compromise language on abortion coverage in the Senate health care reform bill (HR 3590) continued on Tuesday with the hopes of gaining antiabortion-rights Sen. Ben Nelson's (D-Neb.) support for the bill, Politico's "Live Pulse" reports (Frates, "Live Pulse," Politico, 12/15).
The compromise aims to appease the concerns of Nelson, who has threatened to vote against a final bill that does not prohibit federally subsidized insurance plans from covering abortion services. Currently, the Senate bill would allow federally subsidized insurance plans to cover abortion services but would require the federal funds to be segregated from the private premiums used to pay for the abortion coverage (Wayne, CQ Today, 12/15).
A statement released by Casey's office said that the senator "has been an outspoken advocate for passing" health reform and that he "also believes that this bill presents a unique opportunity to provide new and critical support for pregnant women." Casey has introduced two amendments to the Senate health reform bill "to help ensure that pregnant women have additional support and assistance to properly care for herself and her child," the statement said (Fritze, "On Politics," USA Today, 12/15).
According to CQ Today, Casey said that his compromise would address the issue of abortion coverage and expand other provisions aimed at reducing the number of abortions performed in the U.S. He said that the negotiators have "made a lot of good progress over the last week," adding that he hopes to produce the language in the next day or two (CQ Today, 12/15). Nelson said that he has not seen Casey's compromise but expects to read it on Wednesday. He added that the language most likely would be added to the bill's manager's amendment ("Live Pulse," Politico, 12/15).
Senate Democrats need at least 60 votes to block an expected GOP filibuster on the health reform bill, and Nelson likely would be the caucus's only defector if the compromise language does not satisfy him, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 12/15). Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) previously said that he would oppose the bill over a proposal to expand Medicare coverage to people ages 55 to 64. Lieberman recently said that he expects to support the bill if Democratic leaders drop the Medicare proposal.
After a White House meeting with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, President Obama said that he is "cautiously optimistic" that Reid will be able to gather the 60 votes needed to pass the bill, the Washington Post reports. There are "still some differences that have to be worked on," Obama said, adding that the meeting "was not a roll call. This was a broad-based discussion about how we move forward." Reid has said that he would like to have a vote on the final Senate bill by Christmas, with a Dec. 23 target for the bill's passage, according to Democratic aides (Montgomery/Murray, Washington Post, 12/16).
Antiabortion Group Holds 'Pray-In' at Casey's Offices; USCCB Sends Senate Letter Opposing Abortion Coverage
Meanwhile, a group of antiabortion-rights advocates on Tuesday staged a "pray-in" at Casey's offices over his participation in the abortion coverage negotiations, "On Politics" reports. The group's leader, Mike McMonagle, said that the advocates were "appeal[ing] to him to put his Catholic faith above his Democratic Party allegiance." McMonagle said that the group held a meeting with Casey's staff, adding that the two parties "didn't agree on much, but at least they listened" ("On Politics," USA Today, 12/15).
In related news, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Monday sent senators a letter urging them to adopt language that would prohibit federally subsidized insurance plans from covering abortion services, Politico reports. In the letter, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chair of USCCB's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, also urged the Senate to strengthen the language protecting the so-called "conscience rights" of health care providers who object to abortion services based on moral or religious grounds (Cummings, Politico, 12/15).