The Cornhusker Backtrack

THE CORNHUSKER BACKTRACK…. Perhaps more than any other member of Congress, Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska made the health care reform package a little more controversial than it needed to be. And as it turns out, now that the final fix is headed back to the Senate, Nelson will oppose improving the bill he made worse.

One of the big reasons House Democrats wanted changes to the Senate-passed health care bill was the so-called Cornhusker kickback, which provided extra Medicaid money for Nebraska.

And Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, whose vote party leaders were courting when they inserted the provision, has disavowed the provision, saying it should be repealed.

But now Mr. Nelson says he will vote against the budget reconciliation measure aimed at repealing the Cornhusker kickback and making other changes to the health care bill.

As with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas, Nelson’s reversal is very likely to be inconsequential — the reconciliation package can pass with a simple majority, and Dems have at least 51 votes — and not entirely unexpected.

For the record, Nelson isn’t backing away because his “kickback” is being removed, he’ll oppose the budget fix because it includes an overhaul of the federal student loan system. Some major lenders are headquartered in Nebraska, and loan reform may undermine their profit margin.

In the bigger picture, losing Nelson’s vote is a small price to pay for this additional policy breakthrough. Policymakers and reform advocates have been eyeing a chance to improve federal lending programs for years, and attaching the measure to health care not only made it easier to pass the legislation, it made it possible to deliver two key victories at once.

The CBPP had a good report the other day, touting some of the benefits associated with reforming the student loan system, including saving taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, and making higher education more accessible to millions of students who would otherwise not be able to afford tuition.