11:48 am CST - December 21, 2009
Posted under The Scoop
By Matthew Murray, CQ-Roll Call
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Ben Nelson , D-Neb., said he “didn’t ask for a special favor here … didn’t ask for a carve-out.”
“He’s said publicly he’s having trouble with the budget and this will add to the budget woes,” Nelson said of Republican Gov. Dave Heineman . “I said, look, we have to have this fixed.”
Nelson’s comments Sunday morning came as Republicans stepped up their criticisms of the “Cornhusker kickback” included in the Senate health care bill, which is expected to pass the Senate by Friday. The proposal would force the federal government to pay the entire insurance bill for poor Nebraskans. Critics decry the subsidy as a blatant political bribe intended to secure Nelson’s decisive 60th health care vote Saturday.
On the same program, Sen. Lindsey Graham , R-S.C., expressed doubts that Nelson’s deal is even legal.
“I’ve got a 30 percent African-American population, a lot of low-income African-Americans on Medicaid,” Graham said. “There are a lot of people, Democrats and Republicans, who are upset by this. Is it constitutional? I want the attorney general of South Carolina to look at this.”
With both chambers now expected to hash out their differences after the new year, Nelson said he would not support a blended bill that includes a “public plan” or House-proposed tax on wealthy Americans.
“I don’t want to throw down the gauntlet here or make a bright line or anything like that,” Nelson said. “But you always know material changes, something that would change the paradigm from where it is.”
Other lawmakers appearing on the Sunday talk shows had strong thoughts about Nelson’s move, the timing of the vote and what the bill is supposed to accomplish.
“I think it’s interesting that the American people oppose this legislation by every opinion poll, CNN last week, 61 percent opposed, 36 percent support.” Sen. Jon Kyl , R-Ariz., remarked on ABC’s “This Week.” “They can’t sell it on the merits. So the way they sell it is through an artifice. First of all, you have to vote up against Christmas. If you want to go home for Christmas, you’ve got to go through these series of votes and vote for it.
“And, secondly, what do you want? The president is reported to have said to people at the White House, ‘Everything is negotiable, except getting a bill.’ What do you want? And we found what the price of that was as we began to read the bill that we’ve now had for less than 24 hours, when the senator from Nebraska on page 98 of the bill gets his state specifically exempted from having to pay the increased Medicaid costs associated with the bill.
““So the rest of us, the good folks of Illinois and the good folks of Arizona, are going to be paying the $26 billion over the next 10 years for the increased Medicaid that the people in Nebraska won’t have to pass.”
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin , D-Ill., also appearing on the ABC program, called Nelson’s support a “breakthrough” and “we have to look at the positive side of this thing. For once we’re able to say to the American people: We’re going to help you make health insurance more affordable.”
Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Kent Conrad of North Dakota echoed the “doing nothing is not an option” mantra that has accompanied the debate since its inception.
“It is very clear that the bill, the final bill, to pass in the United States Senate is going to be — have to be very close to the bill that has been negotiated here,” Conrad said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Otherwise you will not get 60 votes in the United States Senate. So, look. This is a bill that does reduce the deficit according to the independent expert. This is a bill that expands coverage to 30 million people. This is a bill that will begin to control the cost explosion, has got critically important insurance reforms, delivery system reforms.
“So those who say kill the bill, I think they have really missed the boat,” he said. “We are headed for Medicare being bankrupt in eight years. Premiums are rising three times as fast as wages. Doing nothing is really not an option.”
“This bill, if we do nothing, insurance premiums are going to double,” Brown said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “You know, I’m amazed as I hear Republican after Republican take to the Senate floor and defend the insurance companies, practices worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge. And the way they’d have it is that the insurance companies would cancel Tiny Tim for a pre-existing condition. I mean it’s clearly not sustainable what we’re doing now. We clearly need to go on a different path.”