Nelson gives Democrats 60 healthcare votes

Dec. 19, 2009 at 4:48 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, the last Democratic holdout against the healthcare bill, announced Saturday he will support it, giving leaders enough votes for passage.

Nelson warned he would change his vote if parts of the House bill he considers unacceptable are in the final bill when the two versions are reconciled, The New York Times reported. The big sticking points for Nelson have been federal funding for abortion, which he opposes, and the possibility Medicaid expansion would increase expenses for his state, Nebraska.

"Change is never easy, but change is what's necessary in America," Nelson said in a news conference Saturday morning. "And that's why I intend to vote for healthcare reform."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has set Christmas as a deadline for passing a Senate bill.

A heavy snow storm added to the tension as the Senate convened for a third weekend session, the Times said. Senators appeared on the floor in boots, and 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was cheered when he rolled his wheelchair into the chamber.

Reid introduced what he hopes will be his last amendments, 338 pages of them. One allows states to ban insurers from covering abortion in policies offered through government markets, while another is aimed at Nelson's anxieties about Medicaid cost.

Republicans moved to have Reid's amendments read on the floor, which had to be completed by midnight to get to a vote on the bill before Christmas.

President Obama in a White House news conference thanked Reid and other senators for their hard work. He said some of the recent changes to the bill make it stronger, including penalties for insurers who arbitrarily increase rates and other protections.

"These are big changes. They're fundamental reforms. They will save money. They will save lives," Obama said.

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