Ben Nelson is facing some bad news back home in Nebraska after he switched his vote to support the Senate's health care bill. A Rasmussen survey shows 55 percent of Nebraska voters now hold an unfavorable view of Nelson, who is up for re-election in 2012, while 40 percent view him favorably. So Nelson took to the airwaves during the University of Nebraska's Holiday Bowl on Wednesday to defend his position, but some reporters seem to forget what started it all: abortion.
Some of the Nebraskan stories that led up to Nelson's ad buried or glossed over why he was a key player to begin with. Remember how Nelson said he would filibuster if the bill did not have Stupak-like language (barring federal funds to be used for abortion)?
Nebraskans are probably unhappy with Nelson after the health care vote for a variety of reasons. Maybe they simply don't like that he voted for the bill (the Rasmussen poll suggests that 64 percent oppose the legislation while just 17 percent approve it). Or perhaps they didn't like the negative publicity when Senate leaders decided to exempt Nebraska from paying for the state's share of an expansion to Medicaid.
Though since abortion played such a key role in why Nelson was in the spotlight to begin with, shouldn't reporters keep the abortion discussion in context as they write about his poll woes? In the Rasmussen poll, 65 percent of Nebraskans say that coverage of abortion should be prohibited in any plan that receives government subsidies.
In an interview with the McCook Daily Gazette, Nelson seems to suggest abortion funding could play a part in the backlash.
Other deal-breakers could result if they "start fooling with taxes and come up with a new tax scheme or the House scheme" or the bill comes back without suitable language prohibiting federal funding of abortion.
Unfortunately, he said too many pro-life forces suffer from "pride of authorship" and are unwilling to support measures with language they didn't write but which achieves the same goal, banning federal funding for abortion.
"If they (the conference committee) try to weaken it in any way, I'm not going to be able to support the conference bill."
I wish the newspaper had printed the full interview instead of chopping up his quotes and asked a follow-up question about what he considers unsuitable language for funding abortion.
National coverage of Nelson's defense did include brief mentions that abortion played a role in his spotlight. Monica Davey of The New York Times offers a little context with quotes from Nebraska's Right to Life leader.
"Nebraska is in a huge revolt over this," said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, whose group has repeatedly endorsed Mr. Nelson for his anti-abortion views. "My personal feeling is that he completely underestimated the level of opposition to the overall bill among Nebraskans, and it just whacked him on the side of the head."
Among the critics, some, like Ms. Schmit-Albin, say they are dissatisfied with the Senate bill's provisions related to abortion--an effort to segregate federal dollars from private ones and let states set still tighter restrictions--and feel Mr. Nelson betrayed them on the matter. (This might surprise Senate liberals, many of whom were angry that Mr. Nelson insisted on the abortion rules.)
Still, this is where the Times could flesh out the difference between the Senate and the House versions of the abortion funding language in the bill and explain what would satisfy pro-life groups.
Susan Davis writes a short explanation of the provision for The Wall Street Journal.
He also pushed for more stringent language on abortion, but ended up with less restrictive language than the House version of the bill. The Senate version allows women to buy plans covering an abortion if they get a tax credit to buy insurance, but they must use their own money for coverage and write a separate check.
This section could have been expanded to include comparisons of the bill, but it's a nice, simple way of giving important context for readers.
Earlier, Mollie pointed out two articles by the Washington Post about Nelson's key role in discussions on how to handle abortion in the health care bill. The first article, she noted, did not mention Nelson's Methodist faith. Then she suggested an examination of why pro-life Catholics seem more firm than pro-life Protestants. Perhaps Omaha World-Herald and the Journal-Star could shed some light on Nelson's pro-life background. Would it simply be politically impossible for a state-wide candidate to support abortion, or does Nelson's Methodist faith have anything to do with it?
As reporters consider Nelson's poll numbers, it's not inconceivable that abortion could have something to do with it.