After a week of legislative high drama, it turns out what Sen. Ben Nelson really wanted was... a basket of goodies for his home state of Nebraska. Nelson, the most determined of the Democratic holdouts on health care reform, announced this morning that he will vote for cloture on the bill, shutting down debate so that the Senate can hold an up or down vote on passage. But he only did so after securing handouts for his home state of Nebraska.
According the Washington Post:
Nelson secured full federal funding for his state to expand Medicaid coverage to all individuals below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Other states must pay a small portion of the additional cost. He won concessions for qualifying nonprofit insurers and for Medigap providers from a new insurance tax. He also was able to roll back cuts to health savings accounts.
Vermont, which is represented by potential liberal holdout Sen. Bernie Sanders, got a similar deal.
This doesn't mean that there are no potential hurdles left: Democrats still have to reconcile the House and Senate versions, which may prove complicated. The House bill is financed in large part by a millionaire's tax on high earners, and the Senate bill is financed by an excise tax on gold-plated health care plans — a tax that's opposed by unions, which have far more influence in the House. And Nelson has explicitly reserved the right to vote against final passage of the reconciled bill should any significant changes occur. In other words, it ain't over 'till it's over.
That said, Democrats are now substantially closer to wrapping up this process than they were even a day ago. If I had to guess, I'd say that, with Nelson on board, it's all but a done deal.