Ben Nelson shares double-cross plan

BEN NELSON SHARES DOUBLE-CROSS PLAN…. As the Senate was poised to approve its health care reform bill, there was a problem — proponents had 59 votes. Sen. Ben Nelson (D), the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, was the lone holdout, and his generally incoherent demands about indirect abortion funding very nearly killed the legislation. (He also demanded a little something known as the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which proved to be problematic.)

In time, a compromise was struck. It was far from ideal, but it allowed the bill to advance. Nelson said at the time that if the House tried to mess with his deal on abortion financing, he’d block final passage.

Igor Volsky reports, however, that Nelson now claims he had a secret plan, and was prepared to oppose his own compromise.

[Y]esterday, in an interview with Nelson said that he agreed to the compromise to “get” the final bill into conference and planned to use his leverage as the 60th vote, to insert his original [Stupak-like] amendment into in the final conference report.

“[O]nce it went to conference, as part of the conference, there was still another 60 vote threshold, and that is when I would have insisted… for my last 60th vote, it has to have [Stupak-like language],” Nelson said.

Let’s unpack this a bit. As Nelson describes it now, he struck a deal with his allies, but assures us that he was deliberately negotiating in bad faith. As Nelson now wants us to believe, he struck a deal and voted for it, but had every intention of going back on his word and betraying his party.

That’s Nelson’s defense.

It’s also almost certainly a lie. Nelson is trying to bolster his reputation with conservative opponents of abortion rights, and figures this is the best way to do it. And since a final bill isn’t going back to the Senate anyway, he can make the claim with impunity.

But that doesn’t make it credible. If Nelson had a problem with his own compromise, he would have pushed for changes in the midst of the White House negotiations two weeks ago. Instead, Nelson never said a word. He’s probably just hoping that abortion-rights opponents fall for his tall tale here.

Whether they believe him or not, I hope this comes to Harry Reid’s attention: Nelson just admitted publicly that his word is no good and that he lies to the Senate leadership during negotiations. It’s a detail the Majority Leader may want to keep in mind in the future.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation