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Senate votes against Stupakifying its health care bill


The Senate just rejected Ben Nelson's Stupak-like amendment. The vote to table was 54 to 45, with Conrad, Pryor, Nelson, Casey, Dorgan and Bayh voting against tabling. Although that's the end for this amendment, Nelson's vote is important enough to the final bill that he could work out a pretty noxious "compromise." Unless, that is, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins decide against letting him do that. Both are abortion rights supporters, and either can cancel Nelson out. So the question, I guess, is whether Nelson is more anti-abortion than Maine's senators are pro-rights.

Speaking of which, the Senate these days is a lot more pro-rights than the House. I'm curious whether that's a new development or a long-standing dynamic. Anyone know?

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 8, 2009; 6:05 PM ET
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It's time to call this game, go Reconciliation, and put an end to the drama queen extortion racket that Nelson and his cronies are playing.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | December 8, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

I think the issue has to do with the fact that the entire House is up for reelection next year whereas only a third of the senate is. Ostensibly pro-choice Republicans like Leonard Lance and Mark Kirk voted for it as insurance against primary challenges while many newly elected conservative Democrats didn't want an additional albatross around their necks come election time.

Posted by: WGladstone | December 8, 2009 7:16 PM | Report abuse

This is probably controversial, but I would say since the 70's the House has been more of an incubator of anti-abortion legislation. Even when Republicans have controlled the Senate there were few abortion initiatives on that side. I think that may be because of activism in the house judiciary committee through the 70s and 80s. More recently we may be seeing the House become more anti-abortion overall as a reflection of demographic trends in the country.

Posted by: bmull | December 8, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

The more relevant open question for me: the House didn't have the votes for HCR without the Stupak amendment. Will the same hold true for the final bill? Was Stupak's bloc just playing politics the first time around, or will they hold true on this principle?

Posted by: wisewon | December 8, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

The Senate has historically tended to be more pro-choice than the Senate when both are controlled by the same party. During the 1980s when the Senate was in Republican hands while the House was under Democratic control that was not necessarily the case.

I think the reason for this is there are many Congressional Districts which contain a large proportion of Catholics, and these tend to be urban/suburban districts which tend to elect Democrats. Democrats from such districts may feel compelled to oppose abortion rights in many respects to ensure electability and avoid primary challenges.

Apart from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where many Catholics are actually pro-choice, there are no states so predominantly Catholic as many of the heavily Catholic Congressional Districts are, so Democratic Senators are not quite so easily pressured on the issue and are more likely to vote their consciences or to favor abortion rights to avert a primary challenge from the left on that issue.

The only Democrat to oppose tabling Nelson's amendment who is not from a rural state was Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, who is a prominent pro-life liberal. Casey is very supportive of health reform, has a truly progressive/liberal voting record on issues other than abortion, and is from a state that has often tended to favor pro-life candidates. The Philly area is heavily pro-choice, but the rest of Pennslvania is heavily pro-life so I don't really see Casey as electorally vulnerable in either a primary or general election.

Posted by: OHIOCITIZEN | December 8, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Traditionally, as I see it, the Senate has been more supportive of abortion rights than the House. In the 1970s and 80s, the House usually had big Democratic majorities, but they were puffed up by conservative Dems, mostly but not entirely from the South, who were Democratic largely by tradition and would probably be Republicans if they were starting in politics today. Also urban and suburban representatives were then more likely to be anti-abortion than now, especially if they had many Catholics in their districts.

In the Senate, filibusters and other dilatory rules have always made passing anti-abortion legislation more difficult, even when that movement seemed ascendant (as in the early 1980s). Of course, that can also be problematic for pro-choicers when they hold the majority, as we're currently seeing.

Posted by: mkarns | December 9, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

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