Don't Forget About Ben Nelson, He Has Demands Too!

Ben Nelson has a message for Democrats: “don't forget about Ben Nelson.” While everyone has been fretting about Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson has remained an equally big hurdle to get 60 votes for cloture. Now that Joe Lieberman has taken a big bite out of reform, it is now time for Senator Nelson to get his pound of flesh.

Nelson wants everyone to know that he has yet to commit to support the bill.
"I’m not on the bill," said Nelson, who spoke with Obama earlier Tuesday. "I have spoken with the president and he knows they are not wrapped up today. I think everybody understands they are not wrapped up today and that impression will not be given."

Ben Nelson has already played a big role in removing the public option, preventing the bill from ending the anti-trust exemption for health insurance companies, and possibly killing the CLASS long term insurance program. Yet those concessions are not quite enough for Nelson, he also has his eye on the abortion language.

Even though his version of the Stupak amendment failed on the Senate floor, Nelson has a golden opportunity to demand almost anything from Harry Reid. Reid and the White House have signaled that they will give up anything to get a bill done very quickly.

I suspect Nelson's prize (or one of his prizes) will be abortion language that is about 90% Stupak-like. I would not be surprised if it effectively ended abortion coverage in the individual market or on the new exchanges. Ben Nelson's demand will likely end up one of the biggest rollbacks of women's reproductive rights in a generation.

The only small consolation is that without the public option, strong risk adjustment mechanisms, sufficient tax credits, or tougher regulations, the exchanges will end up an awful place to buy insurance. I doubt anyone will use the exchanges unless they have no other choice. The failure of the rest of reform might end having the “benefit” of containing the poison from whatever anti-abortion langauge Nelson ends up getting added.

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