Senator Ben Nelson doesn’t want to be held accountable on health care

Oh, it must be good to be Senator Ben Nelson. Everyone doing business on Capitol Hill has to kiss his ass. The Democrats need his vote on cloture, yet, he’s always issuing pronouncements that conflict with the Democratic agenda.

Today, Nelson got challenged by Adam Green and Change Congress for his opposition to the public-health option in the upcoming health care reform legislation:

Sen. Ben Nelson is being targeted in a mailing and Internet ad campaign asking people to withhold their political contributions to him and other members of Congress.

The campaign takes issue with the Nebraska Democrat’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposed public health-insurance option. That option would create a government insurance plan to compete with private plans.

The campaign begun Thursday is run by Change Congress, an organization started last year that advocates publicly funding campaigns for federal elections. The idea is to lessen the influence of special-interest money in campaigns.

Nelson is like a bully. He isn’t used to being called out for his bad behavior. His office completely — and inaccurately — overreacted:

Senator Nelson’s spokesman Jake Thompson issued this statement:

“There’s no doubt Senator Nelson understands the insurance industry’s important role providing health care for millions of Americans. After all, he’s been an insurance executive, an insurance industry regulator, a governor who created a children’s health insurance program, and today he represents Nebraska, arguably the insurance capital of the world.

“But let’s look at this group closely. They claim, ‘Ben Nelson said he may not support Obama’s plan.’ Can they send us a copy of the plan? No, because President Obama hasn’t offered a specific plan yet. Next, they ask if people are ready to change Congress and ‘take on special interests’ and ‘only donate to politicians who prove they are willing to do that.’ Then, they promote an election law proposal they’re lobbying for.

“So, let’s get this straight: These people are endorsing something they haven’t seen, criticizing Senator Nelson for something he hasn’t done and using health care as a fundraising gimmick—to lobby for unrelated special interest legislation. These people have a political agenda that has nothing remotely to do with helping Nebraskans get and keep affordable, high quality health care. Their effort is silly, sad and sophomoric.

Yes, so silly, sad and sophomoric that the office of Senator Nelson felt they had to respond with this screed.

And, here’s what Adam Green said back:

Ben Nelson’s spokesperson is flagrantly lying — saying Nelson never opposed a public option that he clearly opposed, calling public financing of congressional campaigns ‘special interest legislation’ when it’s sole function is to curtail special-interest influence, and calling a ‘donor strike’ which asks people NOT to give to Nelson unless he fights special interests a ‘fundraising gimmick.’ Nelson should apologize for his staff lying to Nebraskans.

And, while Nelson did oppose the public plan, he may now be changing his tune. Maybe. Although, it’s Nelson’s constituents who are reporting this development, not Nelson’s office, we learn via Ryan Grim at Huffington Post:

Nelson, according to three people in the room, told the group that he was open to a public option, the primary Democratic goal of reform and anathema to conservatives.

“The good news for all sides involved is that he’s open minded,” said Barry Rubin, the former Executive Director for the Nebraska Democratic Party, who was in the meeting. “He’s not closed minded about a public option.”

Jane Kleeb, a top Democratic powerbroker in Nebraska, said Nelson’s openness to a public option was the biggest takeaway from the meeting.

“He made it clear that he is open to the public option. That’s not a line in the sand where he says it must be off the table for him to move forward on health care reform,” she said….

…A spokesman for Nelson confirmed the meeting but would only say that he is listening to health care concerns from constituents all this week in Nebraska.

Nelson had previously told CQ that a public option was a “deal breaker.” Nelson said that he planned to organization a coalition of Democratic senators to oppose a public option. The coalition never materialized.

Nelson softened that opposition in a subsequent interview with the Huffington Post. He said he would “continue to talk” to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) who’d offered a compromise public option that was unsubsidized and had to follow the same rules private plans do.

But he stopped short of saying he was open to it.

Nelson doesn’t like to show his hand. Then, he won’t get his ass kissed.


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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