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GOP senators to block defense bill in bid to delay health-care vote

That final vote on defense will likely come Saturday morning, clearing the way for Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to return to the health-care debate. As those health-care talks continue, the most-closely-watched man in the Senate will be Nelson.

Nelson has been pressing for the Senate bill to include a provision contained in the health bill the House approved last month that would prohibit recipients of federal subsidies from using the money to buy insurance policies that include abortion coverage. Abortion rights advocates are strongly opposed to that provision, saying it would give insurers a strong incentive to abandon abortion coverage.

On Wednesday, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), an abortion opponent who is trying to mediate the dispute, proposed a compromise that would more clearly segregate public and private funds in the new insurance exchanges for individuals who do not have access to affordable coverage through an employer. Under the bill, people who earn less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for government subsidies to purchase insurance on the exchanges.

Casey also offered new ideas for reducing the number of abortions, including a temporary $1,000 increase in the tax credit for adoptive parents and a new federal fund to assist teenagers, college students or victims of domestic violence who are pregnant and without resources. The fund would provide $250 million over the next decade to help with housing, baby supplies and other needs if the pregnant person chose to keep the child.

In a statement issued Thursday, Nelson praised those provisions but said the proposal was "not sufficient" to win his vote.

"The compromise adds important new initiatives addressing teen pregnancy and tax credits to help with adoptions," Nelson said. "These are valuable improvements that will make a positive difference and promote life. But as it is, without modifications, the language concerning abortion is not sufficient."

Earlier Thursday, in an interview with a Nebraska radio station, Nelson said even if the abortion issue were resolved, he still could not support the $848 billion package, complaining that the plan to cover more than 30 million additional Americans calls for dramatically expanding Medicaid, which is partially funded by the states. The Medicaid expansion would "create an underfunded federal mandate for the state of Nebraska," Nelson said, arguing that states should be permitted to "opt out" of that idea and find other ways to offer coverage to their poorest residents.

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