Ben Nelson’s amendment restricting abortion services coverage in the exchanges is nearing the Senate floor for a vote.

Antiabortion lawmakers in the Senate plan to introduce an amendment as soon as Monday to restrict insurance coverage of abortion in the health bill, setting up a showdown that has no clear path to resolution.

Both sides agree the amendment likely doesn’t have enough votes to pass, but antiabortion groups and Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) say they will continue insisting on tough language as a condition for supporting the overall bill.

The lack of a clear meeting point makes abortion somewhat different from the other top obstacle to the bill’s passage, the publicly run insurance plan that some Democrats oppose. There, both sides are weighing a handful of compromises.

On abortion, said Sen. Nelson, “it’s certainly not a lock that there’s language in the middle.”

As the WSJ story notes, the actual vote on Nelson’s amendment is tangential to the endgame on the abortion language in the bill. However, as Kagro explains, it’s unclear why Nelson would participate in a unanimous consent agreement that would force his bill to capture a higher number of votes in order to pass. He could require a cloture vote to end debate on his amendment, and bottle up the bill basically forever. But if he agrees to the 60-vote threshold, then he was more interested in holding a vote for the benefit of his constituents back home than holding up the bill. And that’s true regardless of Nelson’s threat to join a filibuster if his preferred abortion language, which would ban abortion services coverage in the entire health care market over time, isn’t adopted.

Nobody expects Nelson’s amendment to pass, as Debbie Stabenow told one website today (TPM likes to refer to me as another reporter so for the near future I’m calling them “another website” and not linking to their stuff). I don’t even think it has 50 votes, let alone 60.

But there is an out for all sides that few people are considering. It’s the same out that is motivating negotiations on the public option. There’s going to be a manager’s amendment that will deal with these complex issues. It will be pre-determined to achieve a certain number of votes. Nelson’s concerns can be allayed inside that manager’s amendment. And if they’re not, a manager’s amendment could woo Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins and obviate the need for Nelson’s vote. That’s arguably why Snowe and Collins are in negotiations right now.

There’s a way out of this box, but it’s likely to occur through negotiation rather than any vote on the floor.

UPDATE: I have acquired the text of the amendment. Bob Casey is a co-sponsor, even though he voted against a similar type of amendment in the Senate HELP Committee. The giveaway here is that line where it says “No funds authorized or appropriated by this Act” can be used to pay for abortion services. That’s what was used in the Stupak amendment, and it would basically take away abortion coverage for millions of Americans, and eventually, all Americans. It adds the same fig leaf of supplemental coverage which insurance companies in states with this kind of language simply don’t provide.

Purpose: To prohibit the use of Federal funds for abortions.

H. R. 3590

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the first-time homebuyers credit in the case of members of the Armed Forces and certain other Federal employees, and for other purposes.

Referred to the Committee on __________ and ordered to be printed

Ordered to lie on the table and to be printed

Amendment intended to be proposed by Mr. Nelson of Nebraska (for himself, Mr. Hatch, Mr. Casey, Mr. Brownback, Mr. Thune, Mr. Enzi, Mr. Coburn, Mr. Johanns, Mr. Vitter and Mr. Barrasso) to the amendment (No. 2786) proposed by Mr. Reid

Viz:

Beginning on page 116, strike line 15 and all that follows through line 15 on page 123, and insert the following:

(a) Special Rules Relating to Coverage of Abortion Services.—

(1) In general.—Subject to paragraph (2), nothing in this Act (or any amendment made by this Act) shall be construed to require any health plan to provide coverage of abortion services or to allow the Secretary or any other person or entity implementing this Act (or amendment) to require coverage of such services.

(2) Community health insurance option.—The Secretary may not provide coverage of abortion services in the community health insurance option established under section 1323, except in the case where use of funds authorized or appropriated by this Act is permitted for such services under subsection (b)(1).

(3) No discrimination on the basis of provision of abortion.—No Exchange participating health benefits plan may discriminate against any individual health care provider or health care facility because of its unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

(b) Limitation on Abortion Funding.—

(1) In general.—No funds authorized or appropriated by this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion, except in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, or unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.

(2) Option to purchase separate supplemental coverage or plan.—Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as prohibiting any non-Federal entity (including an individual or a State or local government) from purchasing separate supplemental coverage for abortions for which funding is prohibited under this subsection, or a plan that includes such abortions, so long as—

(A) such coverage or plan is paid for entirely using only funds not authorized or appropriated by this Act; and

(B) such coverage or plan is not purchased using—

(i) individual premium payments required for a qualified health plan offered through the Exchange towards which a credit is applied under section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986; or

(ii) other non-Federal funds required to receive a Federal payment, including a State’s or locality’s contribution of Medicaid matching funds.

(3) Option to offer supplemental coverage or plan.—Nothing in this subsection shall restrict any non-Federal health insurance issuer offering a qualified health plan from offering separate supplemental coverage for abortions for which funding is prohibited under this subsection, or a plan that includes such abortions, so long as—

(A) premiums for such separate supplemental coverage or plan are paid for entirely with funds not authorized or appropriated by this Act;

(B) administrative costs and all services offered through such supplemental coverage or plan are paid for using only premiums collected for such coverage or plan; and

(C) any such non-Federal health insurance issuer that offers a qualified health plan through the Exchange that includes coverage for abortions for which funding is prohibited under this subsection also offers a qualified health plan through the Exchange that is identical in every respect except that it does not cover abortions for which funding is prohibited under this subsection.