Ben Nelson adopts GOP line on taxes

Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, like congressional Republicans, prioritizes deficit reduction above economic growth. More importantly, as of this afternoon, Nelson, like Republicans, is also unwilling to accept a deficit-reduction plan that raises any tax on anyone by any amount at any time.

Sen. Ben Nelson said Tuesday that he will not support tax increases in any budget proposal — a stance that could make Senate Democrats’ chances for reaching agreement on the issue even more difficult.

The Nebraska Democrat, who is up for re-election next year, told reporters, “I’m only focused on cuts, not on raising taxes. If we start getting our attention over to raising taxes, I can assure you that many of my colleagues are going to be less interested in cuts.”

Nelson’s position puts him in line with most Republicans who have said they will not entertain any tax hikes — including those on the rich or on corporations — as part of any budget deal. Republicans and Democrats have been attempting to negotiate a budget deal in order to assure passage of a controversial increase in the debt limit.

He went on to say policymakers looking for a balanced approach — some tax increases, some spending cuts — may “get distracted away.”

I haven’t the foggiest idea what that means, but then again, Nelson has never been accused of being the sharpest senator in the chamber.

In an electoral context, Nelson is running for re-election in a very conservative state, and likely sees this as a way of impressing voters back home. I’m not an expert in Nebraska politics, but it seems to me his Republican opponent is going to accuse him of being a tax-and-spend liberal anyway — whether it’s true or not is irrelevant — and giving voters a choice between a Republican and a Republican-lite in a “red” state is generally not a good idea.

Besides, it’s tough to present one’s self as fiscally responsible while acting in such a fiscally irresponsible way.

But in more practical terms, there are ongoing negotiations between party leaders, and Dems are eager to strike a deal with Republicans that includes at least some additional government revenue to help lower the deficit. Finding the votes for such a compromise will be next to impossible, and by adopting a far-right line, Nelson has made the process that much more difficult.

Americans want a balanced approach, but Nelson doesn’t care. He has some conservatives to pander to, which matters more, apparently, than anything else.