NELSON’S STILL-MISPLACED PRIORITIES…. In the weeks leading up to the Senate’s August recess, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) effectively drew a line in the sand — he wouldn’t vote for anything, regardless of merit, if it increased the deficit. He opposed extending unemployment benefits, for example, because they weren’t fully paid for, and that was more important than aid for the jobless.

Confronted in June with a bill to boost the economy, Nelson balked because only part of the bill was paid for. “[T]he American people are right,” he said at the time. “We’ve got to stop doing that.”

Putting aside Nelson’s finger on the pulse of the nation — most evidence suggests the public is far more concerned with the economy than the deficit — the conservative Nebraskan hasn’t given up on this misplaced priorities. Even during the recess, Ben Nelson continues to annoy.

Centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation that would require unused portions of the recently-passed state aid package to go toward bringing down the federal budget deficit.

President Obama last week signed the $26 billion state aid package after the House returned from recess to approve it. Nelson said that his legislation would apply to the $10 billion education jobs fund included in the bill.

“The new law will keep thousands of teachers on the job across our country and I’m pleased that it is fully paid for by cutting other federal spending and closing foreign tax loopholes for businesses,” Nelson said in a statement. “If a state or states, however, don’t need the additional money, we should make sure the unused funds aren’t shipped off to other states. Instead, the unused funds should pay down the federal deficit.”

Heaven forbid that money intended for one state might save some jobs in another. What really matters is whether we can reduce the deficit by a fraction of a fraction of a percent.

Except that’s ridiculous. The economy is struggling, and needs stimulus. There’s a jobs crisis. The whole point of the state-aid jobs bill was to spend some money and save some jobs. Nelson insisted that bill be paid for — itself a rather silly, since the government is supposed to deficit spend during difficult economic times — and it was.

But before the funding even starts to kick in, Nelson is already preoccupied with getting some of it back and lowering a deficit that should rank very low on his list of priorities.

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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.