It appears that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) will stop at nothing to kill healthcare reform. Nelson made his latest proposals while speaking to constituents yesterday. He wants to split the bill in half to pass a cost saving bill before the 2010 election, and pass expanded coverage, “at a later date.” Nelson also claims that any bill that passes without 65 votes isn’t legitimate.
According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nelson has set the impossible standard for passage of a bill at full Democratic support plus five Republican senators. He said, “I think anything less than that would challenge its legitimacy.” Nelson also opposes the use of reconciliation to pass healthcare reform, “It would be a tremendous mistake to jam it through with 50 votes.”
He echoed Republican claims that a public option would hurt private insurance companies and would add to the deficit, “I’m concerned a public option up front could undermine (private) insurance coverage for 200 million Americans…I’m not going to support anything that would add to the (federal) deficit.”
Nelson made it clear, that his concerns are more about winning elections than passing healthcare. He is essentially supporting splitting the bill in half, to pass the popular items with bipartisan support before the 2010 election. If anyone believes that Nelson would support expanding coverage after 2010, they are wrong.
Sen. Nelson is up for reelection in 2012. Being that he won reelection in 2006 with 51% of the vote, it is a certainty that he would not support expanding coverage at a later date. There is ideological opposition to a public option on the right, but within the Democratic Party much of the opposition is based on electoral calculus, not the issue of healthcare reform.
Some Democrats, like Nelson, are worried that if they support a public option, it will cost them their seat. They are also terrified that if Democrats pass the bill on their own, even with 51 votes, Republicans will use it against every Democrat, whether they supported it or not.
Going strictly by the numbers, the best of both worlds solution would be that Democrats use reconciliation to pass healthcare reform with 50+ votes. This would free up vulnerable red state Democrats to oppose the bill, without harming its prospects.