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Nelson: Indian Country Abortion-Funding "Wasn't Addressed"

1:59 AM, Dec 21, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Speaking to reporters in the reception room off the Senate floor after the 1:00 AM cloture vote, Senator Ben Nelson said the issue of federal funding of abortion in the Indian Services Act is going to "have to be addressed in the conference." The manager's amendment, unveiled by Harry Reid Saturday, incorporated the bill covering health care in Indian Country. But, as Roll Call reported, "that version of the bill did not include key abortion provisions prohibiting the federal government from funding abortions."

Asked by the Washington Times's Kerry Picket if this oversight meant Nelson had agreed to an insufficient compromise on abortion, the Nebraska senator said: "I don't know. We're going to have to take a look at that because that wasn't addressed in the process."

Nelson vigorously defended the health care bill's language on federal funding of insurance plans that cover abortions. "There's no question about whether any of the money goes to fund abortion because it does not," Nelson said. His amendment would require insurance companies, on paper, to segregate an individual's premium dollars from public subsidies and pay for abortions with the premium dollars. A similar amendment offered by Democrat Lois Capps was rejected by Rep. Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats in the House as a book-keeping scheme.

Nelson's amendment would supposedly let states opt-out of this abortion-funding program, but is he concerned that state supreme courts would require abortion funding, as they've done in 13 states regarding Medicaid? "Look, we have a system of government that has three branches," Nelson said. "This is just one of those situations where sometimes the three branches have different opinions, and the courts are the final arbiter of those kind of issues."Nelson also addressed other concerns he had with the bill. "I still want to see the CLASS Act out," he said, referring to the community living assistance entitlement program that Senator Kent Conrad called "a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of." In a December 1 Fox News interview, Nelson said the CLASS Act "needs to be out of the bill," but Nelson told reporters early Monday morning that there "will be other opportunities down the road" to get rid of the act.

Nelson and seven other Democratic asked Harry Reid in a letter to make the text of the bill and the CBO reports "available on a website the public can access for at least 72 hours prior to the first vote to proceed to the legislation." Nelson defended his decision to vote for a bill that had only been available over the weekend for less than 40 hours, saying, "I suggested that [72 hours] was a good way to handle it. I didn't demand it."