December 20th, 2009
02:19 PM ET
3 months 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. Wojo

    Why does a bll have to be rushed in before christmas? Why does everyone keep saying ' if it doesnt get passed now it never will'? If health care reform is that important shouldnt we take our time and come up with the best plan we can?
    Everyone is split along party lines on this one? Why? Because the american people dont know what's in the ever changing bill. Im against it , but that's only because i cant find an accurate answer to what this bill means for the american people. Come out and tell us what it's going to mean for us. What if this raises our rates to something we cant afford? We wont know until it's passed and the requirements are imposed on us? That doesnt seem right.

    December 20, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  2. Coley

    If Nelson and his ilk would spend as much time and energy on eliminating the need for abortions as they do in trying to prevent abortion, we might be able to prevent the need for most abortions.

    December 20, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  3. Gil Oberdas

    A senator is suppose to serve the voters in his district and while holding strong to anti-abortion opinions may not be what people in one district want they were in his. He got them benefits which will only serve the peoplein his district better! Good job. Senator Nelson!

    December 20, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  4. J.C. - Independent 4 Public Option

    Lieberman could have got some pork barrel for his state.

    December 20, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  5. Mike

    Bought off and will be voted out...

    Mike

    December 20, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  6. Gary Penley

    Same old, same old. Just like Senator Landrieu of Louisiana, they bought Nelson's vote, with my tax money.
    How does it feel to have a real liberal in charge, folks? We quickly learn why human nature is basically conservative. The liberals will pay a high price for this, if there is anything left of our country when we get the cahnce to throw them out.

    December 20, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  7. jack

    mr. nelson you still did not tell king how much money or billions nebrasca will not have to pay.please come clean and tell the whole story.

    December 20, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  8. outraged

    Nelson sure is a vicious woman hater.

    December 20, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  9. get real

    I am not seeing where this bill will reduce the cost of health care. It will give access to a lot more folks which is good but the insurance companies are just frothing at the mouth waiting on those new premiums. And all these "special" deals to get votes then they "must" put it to a vote before the holidays???? To me this all stinks worse than a seven days dead skunk in the summer time. I'm a registered Democrat by the way.

    December 20, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  10. tom

    I hope when you get home that your dog takes a HUGE bite out of you. Senator, you got your 13 peices of silver, now go home. The public will vote their anger next November.

    December 20, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  11. susie

    He sold his soul.

    December 20, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  12. Hugo

    Another of our elected elite bought and paid for with our tax dollars. 2010 and 2012 are coming, hope there is some Change left for the soon to be unemployed !

    December 20, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  13. Bill

    Senator, we know what you are. We just don't yet know your fee.

    December 20, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  14. Enough

    If Ben Nelson wants to end abortion, he should require that all men have a vacectomy, it is safe, affordable and reversable. No baby, no abortion.

    December 20, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  15. Husker Hokie

    Enjoy your last term as Senator Ben.

    We are sick and tired of you being nothing more than a lp-dog. All talk and when it comes time for action, you're a pure liberal.

    Adios loser.

    December 20, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  16. ib

    Tell what really happened Nelson; you were bought off just like some others have been. Pathetic!!!!!!!

    December 20, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  17. valwayne

    Another Senator bought for hundreds of millions of dollars. When have we ever seen this level of corruption to pass legislation that is opposed by the vast majority of Americans. One wonders if the people of NE are proud of the Senator?

    December 20, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  18. Joe

    Another sell out be a Democrat. He goes along with this even though it does not do what he wants it to do because part of the bill promises to pay his state for Meidcare over and above the rest of the states in the Country. Just like the senator from Louisiana who got 100 milion for her state for her vote. Is this all they could do is sell themselves to the highest bidder. Just like Judas you sell yourself for 30 pieces of silver and then they will put it to you and not give you what you thought you would get. Shame on you. All of you should be cautious of 2010. If you are up for reelection you will not succeed. 67% of you constituents do not want this bill yet you will vote for it anyway.

    December 20, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  19. stop the madness

    We are $12 trillion or so in debt, medicare is going broke, the social security trust fund is empty and the country is literally operating off of a credit card. With all this, so many STILL insist on yet another entitlement program? Thanks to both Republicans AND Democrats, this country's days are numbered....

    December 20, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  20. kay

    Why don't he just say,he is looking out for the insurance company?
    He was once a ceo for one.He probably has stock and this means more money for him.

    December 20, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
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