ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE NEED FOR FILIBUSTER REFORM…. Matt Yglesias flags this item, which is a reminder as to why conservative Democrats so often stand in the way of effective policymaking.

Democrat Ben Nelson, a Senator from Nebraska, said the slumping economy and rising joblessness will be factors as Congress considers climate change and health care legislation. They are also driving concerns about the budget deficit, which widened to a record $1.42 trillion in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, he said.

“When the economy’s not strong there’s a lot of interest in controlling spending,” Nelson said.

Everything about this is ridiculous. Nelson isn’t some rookie; he’s been a senator long enough to understand public policy basics, and his remarks are substantively gibberish.

Cutting back on federal spending in a weak economy is crazy. When there’s a hole in the economy, it makes sense to fill it — not make it bigger by taking capital out of the system.

Even conservatives should be able to understand this. As Matt explained, “With the economy weak Nelson wants to do … what? Lay off teachers? Halt infrastructure projects? Make sure that kids whose parents are unemployed end up malnourished? The economy is suffering from a catastrophic collapse in overall spending with households, businesses, states, and municipalities all pulling back. If the federal government pulls back too we’re going to go down the drain.”

It’s a reminder that Ben Nelson, like too many conservatives, simply doesn’t approach public policy in a serious way. Indeed, back in February, when policymakers needed to make the recovery efforts bigger and more ambitious, they couldn’t — Nelson wouldn’t let them. He said at the time that an $800 billion stimulus, regardless of whether it would help or not, shouldn’t pass. “At some point it’s just too big,” Nelson argued, with the intellectual seriousness of a house plant.

Even the points about health care reform and climate change are nonsensical. Neither increase the deficit, both improve the long-term finances of the country, and both take effect in the future. Nelson’s argument is, in effect, that policymakers should scale back their efforts because it just “feels better.”

And all of this underscores the larger point about the systemic flaws of Senate lawmaking. Ideally, one conservative Democrat, confused about effective public policy, wouldn’t make any difference. There are 60 members of the Democratic caucus, and if Nelson and a couple of others prefer to vote with Republicans on the major issues of the day, so be it.

But the structures of the existing system make that impossible — every vote requires a supermajority. And Nelson’s Hoover-like attitudes — “When the economy’s not strong there’s a lot of interest in controlling spending” — have to be taken seriously to the extent that the majority can’t govern without him.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.