The Senate Abortion Debate That (Still) Did Not Matter: An Update

As predicted, the Nelson amendment on abortion failed to pass the Senate today, tabled with a vote of 54-45. Probably the most interesting votes were those of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who both voted to table Nelson's abortion restrictions.

In my post earlier this morning, explaining why this debate did not matter, I got a little bit ahead of myself (and of congressional proceedings), when I put the critical juncture in this debate in conference committee. Actually, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to get his 60 votes in line just to get the bill out of the Senate and into negotiations with the House. So Reid must settle the abortion issue prior to conference.

Nevertheless, Reid's situation remains similar to the one I described earlier. It's just happening at an earlier point in the reform process—namely, now. To get the bill past the Senate, he'll either have to win over a centrist Republican or agree to Nelson's language in the manager's amendment at the end of the Senate debate, which is basically a roundup of a bunch of changes to the bill approved by majority and minority leaders.

One last note: there has been some buzz about a third option, finding compromise language. Reid hinted at this when he told reporters today, "I'm happy to continue work with Senator Nelson. If in fact he doesn't succeed here, we'll try something else." But on an issue as divisive as abortion, finding language to satisfy both parties has proved incredibly difficult to come by. Moreover, Nelson has flat-out rejected that idea. "I had no plan B," he told Politico shortly his amendment failed. "I'm not looking for a plan B, but others may be." So that makes it even more important to watch what happens with the centrists, and whether they look willing to sign on.