(CNN) – In his first appearance on Capitol Hill as the Senator-elect from Florida, Republican Marco Rubio struck a markedly different tone on earmarks than that of his soon-to-be Florida Senate colleague, Bill Nelson.
Rubio, who like many Republicans campaigned hard on cutting government spending, told reporters at a joint press conference with Nelson Monday that he will vote in favor of a Senate GOP ban on the practice that often delivers millions of federal dollars to political pet projects and causes back home. The comments came after Rubio and Nelson met privately.
Washington (CNN) - Sen. Ben Nelson said Friday that he will not support Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court, but will vote for the cloture, a move that will help bring the nomination to an up or down vote.
"As a member of the bipartisan 'Gang of 14,' I will follow our agreement that judicial nominees should be filibustered only under extraordinary circumstances," Nelson said in a statement. "If a cloture vote is held on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court, I am prepared to vote for cloture and oppose a filibuster because, in my view, this nominee deserves an up or down vote in the Senate."
But one yes vote doesn't lead to another, the Nebraska Democrat said.
Washington (CNN) - Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson is not afraid to buck his party when it comes to fiscal issues.
The Nebraskan did it again this week, voting against a bill extending unemployment insurance benefits to millions of Americans. The bill passed Wednesday with the help of a couple of Repubican votes. It now goes to the House where it is expected to pass.
The extension, which lapsed in June, failed in an earlier Senate vote after a Republican filibuster.
In this week's votes, Nelson insisted that Democrats find a way to pay for the extension of benefits. He said there are some stimulus funds that could be used - an idea that Republicans back.
"I'm comfortable with my own decision on this," he said. "I made it clear what I think needs to be done." Nelson told CNN.
Washington (CNN) - A key Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that he will vote for a compromise plan to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans openly gay and lesbian soldiers from military service.
The endorsement from moderate Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska boosted the chances for the proposal to win committee support as soon as Thursday.
However, the leaders of the four branches of the military said Wednesday in letters to Republican Sen. John McCain and Rep. Buck McKeon that they opposed any congressional action on the policy now, before the military completes its review of the matter.
Read Marine Corps Commandant James T. Conway's letter here.
Read Chief of Staff of the United States Army George W. Casey's letter here.
Read Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead's letter here.
Read Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton A. Schwartz letter here.
The proposed agreement - reached Monday by the White House and top congressional Democrats - calls for a repeal of the controversial policy after completion of a military review expected by the end of 2010, followed by a review certification from President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
Initial votes on the proposal in the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House could occur Thursday.
(CNN) - Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson joined Republican lawmakers in opposing President Obama's controversial nominee for the National Labor Relations Board.
Nelson said Monday he would vote against seating union lawyer Craig Becker on the five-member board because "he would pursue a personal agenda."
"This is of great concern, considering that the Board's main responsibility is to resolve labor disputes with an even and impartial hand. In addition, the nominee's statements fly in the face of Nebraska's Right to Work laws, which have been credited in part with our excellent business climate that has attracted employers and many good jobs to Nebraska," the Nebraska senator said in a statement.
Becker has served as an associate general counsel to the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO. Republicans have stalled his nomination because of his union ties and concerns that he would sidestep Congress and make pro-union changes to the law.
In a statement before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee last week, Becker said "should I be confirmed, I will always remain faithful to the will of Congress."
He also said he has represented "not simply unions but also individual employees, belonging to no labor organization, in diverse trades and professions - from prison guards to retail clerks, from hospital administrators to home-care workers."
(CNN) - Sen. Ben Nelson's support in his home state of Nebraska has dipped below 50 percent, according to a new poll which finds a majority of voters there disapprove of the Democratic health care bill the two-term senator supports.
According to a new poll conducted by the Omaha World-Herald, Nelson's job approval rating now stands at 42 percent with a 48 percent disapproval rating. Forty-four percent of those polled also said Nelson's support for the health care reform bill would hurt his chances at re-election 2012 should he decide to run.
Nelson was the last Senate Democrat to sign on to his party's health care bill, and has since been criticized for only agreeing to the bill after winning special concessions from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The poll found that more than 60 percent of Nebraskans questioned oppose the Senate health care bill.
A majority said they opposed Nelson's vote in favor of the bill, while about 1 in 3 approved of it. Three-quarters of the GOP voters surveyed - but only 22 percent of Democrats - opposed the senator's vote.
Nelson, who served as governor of Nebraska from 1991-1999, has long been a popular figure in the state. He was re-elected in 2006 to his second Senate term with 64 percent of the vote.
The same poll out Monday shows fellow Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns, a Republican who voted against the health care measure, with a 63 percent approval rating.
The poll surveyed 500 registered voters in Nebraska between Jan. 8-12. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
(CNN) - Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, the conservative Senate Democrat who provided the party with the 60th vote needed to prevent a Republican filibuster of the health care bill, is defending his move in an a television ad set to air Wednesday.
The ad, to run during the sure-to-be highly rated University of Nebraska's Holiday Bowl game Wednesday night, features Nelson himself directly explaining to constituents why he voted for the measure the recent polls of have suggested is unpopular with most Nebraskans.
According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nelson will tell constituents he worked hard to improve the controversial bill before committing to be the Democrats' crucial 60th vote.
"Now it lowers costs for families and small business, protects Medicare, finally guarantees coverage for pre-existing conditions and reduces the deficit," Nelson says in the ad, according to the paper. "And it's not run by the government. I'm convinced this is right for Nebraska."
As part of his agreement to vote with the Democrats, Nelson successfully negotiated the federal government to pay in perpetuity for Medicaid's expansion in his state, an agreement that has riled other senators whose states have to foot the bill.
Nelson told CNN shortly after the vote he did not seek any special favors.
"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."
Nelson won't face reelection until 2012.
(CNN) - Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee blasted Sen. Ben Nelson in his own backyard over the Nebraska Democrat's decision Saturday to provide the key 60th vote to advance the party's health care reform bill.
In a fiery speech Sunday at an Omaha rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity of Nebraska - a group opposed to Democratic efforts at health care reform - Huckabee said it is "historic and unprecedented that we are now bribing public officials openly - now we openly bribe them with $300 million at a time and tell them this is what your vote is worth."
The final Democratic holdout, Nelson agreed to back the measure following 13 hours of negotiations during which he won a commitment from the federal government to fund entirely his state's Medicaid population beyond the three years of funding granted to all states by the bill.
Republicans were quick to question Nelson's motivations for backing the bill, dubbing his alleged deal making the "cornhusker kickback," and claiming Nelson's provision has increased the burden on the 49 other states.
"That puts an added burden on all the other states, including mine," Sen. John McCain said "Fox News Sunday."
In an interview with CNN, Nelson said he did not seek any special favors but rather voted for the bill because of an added amendment allowing states to opt out of providing abortion coverage - a provision conservatives say falls far short of the blanket prohibition Nelson originally sought.
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.
Washington (CNN) - U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, the lone Democratic holdout on the Senate health care reform bill, has reached an agreement with Democratic leaders, several Democratic senators said Saturday on Capitol Hill.
Nelson, a social conservative from Nebraska who opposes abortion, does not want taxpayer funds to pay for that medical procedure. His vote is crucial for Democrats, who want to avoid a GOP filibuster.
The senators were said to be caucusing on the terms of the agreement.
Asked whether he was on board with it, Ben Nelson replied, "Yeah."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, who was one of the key senators involved in the talks with Ben Nelson, confirmed that she's satisfied that the language of the agreement achieves its goal.
"My goal was to try to reach some compromise so we could move forward on health care, where the basic premise was we could separate federal funds from private funds. I think we achieved that."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, agreed, saying the deal follows the principles of the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal funds from being used for abortions.
"Anyone who is in the exchange who also gets a federal subsidy because they're poor, if they choose a private insurance policy and want any kind of abortion coverage, they have to write that part of the premium from their own personal funds," the Florida senator said.
The health bill proposes a health insurance exchange for those unable to afford health coverage or don't have coverage. No federal funds could be used to cover abortions for people participating in the exchange, the bill says.
In addition, under national plans that would be administered by the Office of Personnel Management, there has to be, if a state chooses those, at least one that does not offer abortion coverage.