August 21st, 2009
05:54 PM ET
13 years ago

America 'traumatized' by health-care debate, key Democrat says

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="'I am ... trying to help people understand the difference between fact and fiction coming out of Washington,' Nelson said."]

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Americans are gripped by "an awful lot of concern, fear, anxiety" and "frustration" in the health-care debate, a key Senate Democrat warned Friday.

The description of an increasingly nervous national mood illustrates the growing challenge facing President Barack Obama and supporters of health-care reform as Congress prepares to return in less than three weeks.

"I think America has been traumatized by the debate," Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a moderate Democrat, said on the CNN Radio show "44" with Ed Henry.

Nelson, considered a critical swing vote in the Senate, bemoaned what he called the "misinformation" and "misunderstanding" that has characterized so much of the debate. He highlighted the confusion over a provision in the House version of the health-care bill that includes coverage of end-of-life counseling for Medicare beneficiaries who want it.

The provision - which opponents claim would create federal "death panels" to discourage care for the sick and elderly - was recently dropped by Senate negotiators.

"I am ... trying to help people understand the difference between fact and fiction coming out of Washington," Nelson said.

Nelson, whose traditionally conservative state voted against Obama last year, was non-committal on what may be the most politically explosive question of all: whether there should be a government-funded public health insurance option to compete with private insurers.

"If the public option is not in the ... position where it could destabilize the insurance that currently 200 million Americans have, that
certainly makes it more palatable," he said. "... (But it's) hard to sign onto anything until you've seen everything."

One of the top Senate negotiators, Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, has insisted that a public health option cannot get the 60 votes required to overcome a Senate filibuster. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, asserted Thursday that a bill cannot pass the House of Representatives if it does not include a public option.

The public option has been cleared by three committees in the House as well as by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

But a bipartisan group of six negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee - the last committee that needs to clear health-care legislation before it can be taken up on the Senate floor - is currently considering dropping a public option in favor of non-profit cooperatives that would negotiate collective polices for members.

Nelson said he is "at least neutral" and "not negative" toward the idea.

Some top Democrats have responded in recent days by hinting that they may instead try to short-circuit the traditional Senate legislative process by passing a health-care bill through an obscure tactic known as reconciliation, a type of budget maneuver that requires only a simple majority - 51 votes - to pass.

Such a maneuver would boost the prospects for Senate passage of a public health option. But Republicans have equated such a move to legislative warfare.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated Friday that the president remains committed to crafting a bipartisan bill.

Filed under: Ben Nelson • Health care
soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Nighthawk

    Why wouldn't you be, especially since nobody from the White House knows enough about it to explain it?

    August 21, 2009 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  2. jane

    No, America is traumatized by the current health care system that private insurers have made inaccessible to too many of our citizens. While this debate goes on, people are needlessly losing their lives.

    August 21, 2009 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  3. Common Sense

    Ben Nelson a moderate democat? To quote Barney Frank, "What planet do you spend most of your time on?". Ben Nelson is among the very most conservative Democrats.

    An obscure tactic known as reconcilitaion? Sheesh you guys. Reconciliation was how the Bush tax cuts and Iraq war funding passed. It's not obscure. It's the law since 1974.

    CNN shouldn't have to be fact checked like this.

    August 21, 2009 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  4. J. McCane

    I just sick of footing the bill for the medical industry's profits. I pay too much for health insurance [nearly $900 per month for 2], I have to pay taxes on the premiums I pay and the medical care is ok, but not great. I do not trust the medical insurance companies one bit. They are thieves, liars and swindlers.

    August 21, 2009 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  5. Joseph

    Civics teachers must be throwing up their hands – or rolling over in their graves.

    Reconciliation is not "an obscure tactic" short-cutting the legislative process. It is a fundamental procedure stemming from our bicameral legislative process. Anytime the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill, the process to merge those two bills is reconciliation. A simple majority is all that is necessary – and all that has ever been necessary – to pass the reconciled version of the bill.

    Are we supposed to be scared that a majority of legislatures might actually pass legislation?

    Please educate yourselves when you write these articles. Only then can you educate the public.

    August 21, 2009 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  6. Marie Laveaux

    Yes, we have been traumatized, but not by "debate" on the issue. The trauma stems from the ugly emotional backlash that the right has stirred up through its systematic use of lies and fear tactics to make this and everything the President does fail or look bad. Debate is healthy; this has become a lynching mob. Based solely on the comments I've been reading on the Ticker, most posters are just venting an outright hatred for the President personally. I just don't understand how these people can be so awful. I didn't vote for Bush, I didn't agree with most of his policies, but I never hated him. I fear that this deliberate and misguided attempt to destroy this President is going to take this country down with it.

    August 21, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  7. ModerateFromOhio

    What did you expect? We were told that public healthcare would be the exact same one that congress gets! Now, all of a sudden it's not even close , & as usual, politicans can't be trusted. the Obamabots are in shock – the rest of us figured it would be this way! The tax payers are gonna take it this time!!!

    August 21, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  8. The real health care reform information...

    Come on Dems. Use it or lose it.

    August 21, 2009 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  9. ModerateFromOhio

    Make that – The Tax Payers AREN'T gonna take it this time!!!!!!!

    August 21, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  10. Steve. NC

    "Legislative warfare" ? What do you think the Republicans are waging right now in opposition of everything the Democrats are trying to achieve? No matter what the composition of the Democrats healthcare
    initiative will be, the Republicans will vote against it.

    August 21, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  11. IS IT 2012 YET ??

    Americans are rapidly loosing all confidence in Obama. Some never had any to begin with, but unfortunately, there weren't enough of those last November.

    August 21, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  12. democrat no mas

    This is not the time to discuss such depressing matters. The President is on a vacation and needs to focus on fun and fine food.
    It's good to be the King!

    August 21, 2009 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  13. wbn

    That's the problem, Ben. America has read the details (the few provided about the socialization of health care), and they are saying "No" from both political parties. It's the mindless congress members that are traumatized by public participation. Why would any of them think people would keep on accepting gigantic, vague, and government controlled program, such as the several pushed over already during 2009?

    August 21, 2009 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  14. sunshine

    Let's finally let every American know how it feels to be covered by a decent health insurance, if you've never been without coverage, there's no way you can understand the helpless feeling that you have, let's pass this health care, let's do it for our fellow men and women & children.

    August 21, 2009 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  15. Rick in OP

    I think the members of Congress and President Obama have been “traumatized” by the health-care debate, especially by the town hall meetings.

    August 21, 2009 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  16. Jdj

    I just want to say that i dont have insurance. I have health problems. Why can't I have coverage that senators and represenatives of our great United States have?

    August 22, 2009 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  17. b watson vp

    dem. sen. are acting like slaves following the civil war after being granted freedom many could not shake the psych. bondage of slavery. the the dems have the freedom of majority but still fear the whip.

    August 22, 2009 06:42 am at 6:42 am |
  18. jules sand-perkins

    It is not traumatic to confront an issue.
    It is, instead, very healthy and productive.

    August 22, 2009 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
  19. Jim

    You cannot argue that you want to cut costs and at the same time argue against a public not for profit insurance plan. The whole point of the plan is to cut the costs of insurance. Why should we worry about the well being of insurance companies when they have been screwing us for 50 years? 20% of our money goes to their shareholders, not to our health care.

    August 22, 2009 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  20. Gary

    Let's get this done. It has already been too long.

    August 22, 2009 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  21. Keith in Austin

    America is traumatized not only by the Healthcare debate but more so by the Socialistic path this President and his radical band of pirates are trying to take this Country. Those in the upper and middle class object to the desired caste system and belief that wealth should be shifted to others non-deserving via their tax dollars and under the guise that they are entitled.

    August 22, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
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