One of the most unreliable Senate Democratic votes for health reform said on Friday that he is open to passing a bill through reconciliation as a last resort.
In an interview with KLIN radio in Nebraska, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he would not vote against health care reform simply because party leadership was using a budgetary procedure that precludes filibusters to amend it. Rather, if he cast a vote against the legislation it would be on policy grounds alone, he said.
"I'm not going to use reconciliation as a principle to be against this," Nelson said. "It's my least favorite way to do something. It's only after everything else fails, when there's obstruction going on."
"We'll have to see what the final package is, and I'll make a decision based on the final package," Nelson offered earlier. "There are some things that they have put in now with federal oversight that would move away, from some degree, state regulation... And I don't think the federal government needs to get much more involved in this when you have states that are capable of deciding what are adequate or excessive rates when it comes to health care premiums. There are other things. I don't know what the final cost is. I worry that it's now up to $950 billion. I'd like to see a final score, see what it is and make a decision then."
Nelson was one of the last Senate Democrats to offer his support for the Democratic health care reform package, so his openness to using reconciliation to pass amendments to that bill is undoubtedly welcome news for his party colleagues. Reconciliation requires a simple majority of the Senate, and the continued support of the conservative Democratic wing suggests that they can clear the 50-vote hurdle with room to spare.
Nelson still seemed to be reserving the right to vote against the legislation on other grounds, such as its cost. But on this front Nelson himself is partially to blame. First, he secured extra Medicaid money for his home state -- a move that quickly became known as the "Cornhusker Kickback." Then, desperate to get rid of the highly unpopular measure, he petitioned the administration to expand that federal subsidy to all states. This, naturally, played a role in raising the legislation's price tag. But when asked about it on KLIN, Nelson said he was pleased with the legislative adjustment.
"Now I want them to start calling this the Cornhusker kickoff. It kicks off for everybody, which is what I sought in the first place," he said. "My theme has always been Nebraska first, Nebraska always, not Nebraska only."
Does he feel vindicated? "I do. In a word I do," he said. "Absolutely. Because what happened is what happens when something maybe isn't your top point and that is the other side jumped out and branded this. And it was not one of the things we insisted on. I said it was something that needs to be addressed and taken care of."