December 20th, 2009
02:19 PM ET
4 years ago

CNN Exclusive: Nelson answers his critics on health care reform

Washington (CNN) – In an exclusive appearance on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson responded to criticism of his role in pushing the Senate health care reform bill forward and keeping the legislation on a path for a final vote in the Senate by Christmas.

Related: Senate Dems win over key holdouts to reach 60 votes for reform bill

Since his announcement Saturday that he would be the crucial 60th vote necessary to secure cloture on the health care reform bill and avoid a likely Republican filibuster, Nelson has faced a storm of criticism from conservatives in both parties – and some liberal groups.

“I couldn't create the opportunity to be the 60th vote. It happened,” Nelson said on State of the Union. “If you think it's fun having both sides on an issue mad at you when you're trying to do something in good faith, just think, it's like going home and getting bit by the family dog. So - who enjoys that?” Nelson also said Sunday.

As part of the deal announced Saturday, the Nebraska Democrat said he would supply the key vote to move the bill ahead if it included provisions that did not allow federal funds to be used to pay for abortions. To satisfy Nelson, leading Senate Democrats agreed to amendments that will allow states to opt out of providing abortion coverage when the statewide insurance exchanges called for by the bill are set up. In addition, insurance providers who do provide abortion coverage would be required to pay for the procedure solely with premiums collected from policyholders. In order to ensure that federal funds are not used to pay for abortions, insurance companies would be required to set up a firewall between subsidies paid by the federal government and premiums paid by policyholders.

Responding to criticism from fellow lawmakers and advocacy groups that oppose abortion rights, Nelson pointed out that his effort to get even stronger prohibitions on abortion funding – like those passed in the House - had already failed in the Senate.

Asked why he did not hold out for even tougher restrictions since he was in the position to supply the 60th vote, Nelson suggested Sunday that instead of including prohibitions like those in the House health care reform bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might have opted to use a procedural maneuver called reconciliation that would allow some portions of Democrats’ health care reform agenda to be passed with a simple majority in the Senate.

“Then you would have gotten what’s in the bill right now,” Nelson said Sunday defending his negotiation of the contentious issue of abortion funding.

Nelson also defended another controversial part of his agreement that has caused some of his fellow lawmakers to be green with envy. Under the deal, the federal government will foot the bill in perpetuity for any additional Medicaid costs incurred by Nebraska as a result of passing the health care reform bill.

“I didn't ask for a special favor here. I didn't ask for a carve-out,” Nelson told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King. “What I said is the governor of Nebraska has contacted me, he said publicly he's having trouble with the budget. This will add to his budget woes. And I said, look, we have to have that fixed.”

Pressed on whether Democratic claims about the bill’s ability to lower overall health care costs in the long term could be believed if other states sought deals like the one he negotiated on behalf of Nebraska, Nelson suggested that his deal points out why the federal government should not impose unfunded mandates on states.

“Well, if the money isn’t there, then the requirement needs to go away,” Nelson told King.

“It's one or the other,” Nelson also said Sunday. “If we're going to mandate these things on a state, then we have to pay for them. We don't pay for them three years, then pull back on them, leave the mandate there and pull back the federal money. That was my objective, to get that fixed.

“They fixed it this way. It's not the way I would have fixed it, but it's fixed, at least at this point in time. But I think in the future, either the mandate goes away or the federal government provides the money, as it should.”

Asked about the rampant partisanship that has characterized the health care reform debate on Capitol Hill, Nelson said it was unprecedented during his time in the Senate.

“The high intensity here is as harsh and as unforgiving and unrelenting as I have ever seen it in my nine years,” Nelson said Sunday on CNN.

And Nelson also defended his go-it-alone approach in the middle of the health care reform fight.

“I'm an independent-minded sort of person,” Nelson said on State of the Union. “And I think that's demonstrated. I don't take my marching orders from a party or a group or any other entity. And, as in this case, I put together what I thought was appropriate, and I'm sorry that both sides didn't enjoy it. And that's the way it works. I'm an independent type of person. I'm not a lone eagle. I do consult. I do get input. But at the end of the day, I make my own decision about what to do.”

Finally, the conservative Democrat cautioned that his party could still lose his vote in the contentious weeks ahead.

“I suppose putting in a public option would do it,” Nelson said Sunday.

The conservative Democrat added that imposing a tax on wealthier Americans, a funding mechanism employed in the House health care reform bill, could also cause him to withhold his vote for the final version of the bill.

Updated: 6:02 p.m.

Filed under: Abortion • Ben Nelson • Health care • Popular Posts • State of the Union
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. GI Joe

    Another whiner. ALL states are having trouble balancing their budgets.

    States need to cut back the same as the Feds need to cut back.

    Nelson wants ALL of us to live by Nebraska rules and pay for Nebraska citizens' healthcare. He is a nutjob.

    December 20, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  2. Peter s

    Its good Nelson moral values prevailed over corporate lobbyists!

    December 20, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  3. Jenn, Philadelphia

    I hope there are also no federal funds to pay for Viagra, birth control, fertility treatments or any other reproductive medical procedures. Otherwise, this bill that the Democrats are lauding denies every one the same benefits and coverage that they promised to deliver. And I hope the other 49 states are happy paying for Nebraska's medical coverage, because that's the deal your Senators cut with Nelson.

    December 20, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  4. Jim in Indiana

    Speaking as a democrat I would just as soon see a republican in that seat. It would be better to lose than to have to sell your soul to the creep.

    December 20, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  5. John f. Johnston

    I am nearly fully disheartened. I am disgusted with congress. This debacle that began with the democrats seeking to "work with" the unbending Republican roadblock and repeatedly giving away and giving away important measures to effect compromise and cooperation without any positive response at all only grows in stench.
    Sadly, the hope that President Obama promised has diminished with his vague half-hearted leadership regarding health care reform.
    The Republican obstructionist solidarity has effectively illuminated
    the self-seeking, every person for himself alone, interests of the
    Democrats. The Democrats and the President have indeed secured, as one source designated this, a Pyrrhic victory.
    George Bush's policies were profoundly perverted and embarrassing. Nevertheless, despite a Democratic majority in congress...hisleadership got him nearly everything he sought.
    I find it hard to believe that I would write, "I wish President Obama
    had the leadership strength of George W. Bush." further, "I wish the
    Democrats in congress had the strength and commitment of the

    December 20, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  6. Bill

    This process has no integrity whatsoever. None. Just a bunch of bribes and under the table crap. Where's the hope? Where's the change?

    December 20, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  7. GI Joe

    He's right of center – I think that mean Republican. Why is he masquerading as a Democrat? Hope he gets voted out. He's almost as bad as LIEberwoman.

    December 20, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  8. S Callahan- God IS helping America!

    Mr. Nelson, you are would have, and can still have what is right. Take the time through all this to read the Book of Esther. Let God speak to you through this. Be steadfast.

    December 20, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  9. katiec

    Nelson represents the worst of what a politician is supposed to be. One would almost think he is a republican.
    He has fought against a true Health Care Reform since day one.
    And, for the plan to have to be changed to his liking for his support
    is holding the American people hostage.
    He is another politician who thinks he has the right to stuff his
    religious beliefs down our throats. Am getting so sick of those hiding behind a Bible, yet being so hypocritical, self serving with no regard
    to what is right or wrong. Whatever happened to the separation of
    church and state?

    December 20, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  10. John Anthony Castro


    You will be remembered as the Conservative Democratic Senator that saved the Pro-Life Movement. God bless you and your family.

    December 20, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  11. D. Tree

    People against healthcare reform are still a minority, but you wouldn't think that with this reporting.

    December 20, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  12. vwrtb

    He is just a republican... What can you expect...?

    December 20, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  13. Jeff

    There is absolutely nothing the Dems can do that will cost them the vote of this spineless man, and they know it. They will ram this thing through before Christmas, then when it hits conference next year, they will put back in all the garbage they took out to get it through both houses. The bill that eventually gets passed and signed into law by the president will be a total takeover of medical care by the government, including my tax dollars paying for abortions of convenience.

    Stop the lying, Democrats, we can see right through you. I suppose that is what the president meant when he promised transparency.

    December 20, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  14. IndiePA

    No, he couldn't "create the opportunity" to be the 60th vote, BUT in accepting the "opportunity", he was not moral or ethical in accepting (requesting??) the payout for his state with which he was rewarded (bribed, really).....all adding to the expense our grandchildren will pay for this monumental fiasco!

    What a sick, immoral, unethical, power-hungry, bunch of crooks (both parties) are running this country (into the ground)!! They all make me sick!

    December 20, 2009 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  15. NC

    Where is all the transparency that this administration has promised???? This health care bill has been written in the back rooms in the middle of the night. The American people have a right to know exactly what has been promised to all these Senators and the states they represent– If the bill was one in which Democrates are so proud of, why are they voting at 1am??????
    Can't wait to see what the midterm elections will show...............

    December 20, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  16. B. Stratton

    Shame on you Sen. Nelson. You are no better or worse than all the remaining members of congress. Most of them sell their votes without comment. You are trying to justify climbing the fence by saying I was trying to help my constituants (vote mandering) through use of taxpayers money from the other troubled 49 states. Don't call yourself an honest independent when you place a price on your support. Your conscience had nothing to do with support of a bill I am sure you haven't even read or understand....

    December 20, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  17. Sold Out

    Mr. Nelson,

    You sold yourself just like a prostitute. You are being paid to turn a trick. The trick being your yes vote.

    If I were a Senator right now, I would start right off by saying, if you want my Yes vote, give me what Nelson got. I want MY state to not have to pay any additional costs this bill adds to Medicaid for each state. I want the Federal government to pay for my Yes vote.

    I hope the family dog bites you right in the arse, I hope your nebraskan voter family see how corrupt and easily purchased you are.

    Then you say they may still lose your vote,,,, bull. You will roll over just like a wimp. You will NEVER say no to Ried. And if you do, he will buy you again.

    December 20, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  18. jack

    so senator nelson,what is the cost of your vote to the taxpayers?you talked about pressure from both groups,wait till re-election got to the right thing for the good of the country and you talking about pressure.what about the people who are loosing their jobs and homes.what do you say to them.your tine come soon.

    December 20, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  19. Carole

    GREED! How much does he get from Healthcare Industry with its 52 Year High?

    December 20, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  20. Chris in Atlanta

    Thank you Ben Nelson! The American people will be proud. Oh, and don't worry about the tea party group; they aren't nearly as big as they are loud.

    December 20, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  21. Four and The Door

    In order to ensure that federal funds are not used to pay for abortions, insurance companies would be required to set up a firewall between subsidies paid by the federal government and premiums paid by policyholders.
    Yet another perfect example of why the federal government makes everything it touches more expensive and bureaucratic. This health care bill is loaded with expensive bureaucracy. Costs for health care in America will be astronomic if this passes. Thank the Democrats because they are shoving it down our throats any way they can in spite of the cries of of the majority of Americans telling them to stop.

    December 20, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  22. george carson

    Socialism is Obama's game and Nelson is his claim to fame
    While politicians continually prostitute themselves, Nelson's move
    may break the all time record. As a taxpayer, I'm sad I'm forced to be a part of it without recourse. Oh wait – we can still vote or does Obama plan to keep the bill payers from voting as part of the health care bill. No incumbents will get my vote in the coming elections.

    December 20, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  23. Lilarose in Bandon, OR

    Here is a man who does not possess a uterus so cannot possibly bear a child deciding for more than 53 percent of the American population (women, if you don't know) whatis best for us.

    While abortion is legal in the United States of America, this one man might withhold the fed money purse and not allow abortions to women who need them (their choice).

    It will be interesting to see what happens in those states that opt out of abortion will see women moving out of those states to states that will fund abortions.

    For decades I have fought to keep abortion legal and SAFE...where are my fellow fighters now? Today's young women aren't contributing to their own medically-safe futures, and they are going to be in for a nasty surprise when the government starts making other health decisions for them and their children.

    December 20, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  24. Jim

    Senator Nelson should stick with his party at least on cloture votes. What good is being part of a party if you can't support them on procedural votes? He can vote his conscience without joing the right wing nuts and filibustering everything that comes into the Senate.

    December 20, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  25. Dr. E

    Jeez! As soon as you start thinking that there might be one Washington politician that had a few drops of statesman blood in his veins, he sells out for a $45 million special bribe for his state. Nelson has been promised that the feds will pay for a decade of medicare assistance instead of the 3 years promised other states. Oink supercedes principle once again in the hallowed stalls of Congress.

    December 20, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
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