Hours after he appeared in a television ad attacking Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) for slow-walking health care reform, local Nebraska businessman Michael Snider received a phone call.
It was Nelson.
The senator wasn't pleased about the ad being released in his home state -- his office would later suggest that the ads would compel the senator to blow up the reform process altogether.
But with Snider on the line, Nelson was less bombastic, trying instead to persuade a local constituent with substantive concerns that there was middle ground.
"To be real honest with you, I don't know if he was just being aggressive or nervous but he just wanted to put out his position on the issue," Snider recalled in an interview with the Huffington Post. "He said he supported the public option but one that wouldn't affect the current plans of 200 million Americans."
"I told him I didn't understand. And he tried to explain it. He put his position out. He said if we went with a full public option -- which he called a government plan -- it would drive the price down and hurt private companies. I said, 'you mean competition.' And he replied that it would force people off the private plan and onto the government plan."
"That happened twice," Snider concluded. "He was telling me how bad a public option would be and when he was done I said, 'So you don't support a public option.' He would reply, 'That's not what I say.'"
The call lasted roughly ten minutes. In the end, Snider thanked Nelson but made no plans for future discussion. That it took place at all was a shocker for the Nebraska restaurant owner. He almost didn't take the call after his wife answered the phone and didn't recognize the voice on the other line.
Snider also never expected to be in the heat of a political war of words. He had agreed to cut an ad for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Democracy for America (DFA) detailing how his insurance rates were being raised 42 percent and expressing frustration with Nelson's skittishness on reform. The spot became viral on Friday, and within minutes he had received a call from an anonymous angry male who was furious with his position. The next person to ring was his home state senator.
But such is the state of play in the hot-oven health care debate. Nelson's office says it is normal protocol to respond to concerned constituents. "During weekdays in Washington, Senator Nelson often calls Nebraskans who email, call or write him on various issues," said Jake Thompson, the senator's press secretary. "He wanted to share with Mr. Snider his views on health care and to talk with him because it seemed Mr. Snider was having problems with the health care system that Senator Nelson is working hard to reform this year."
But for all the outreach, the pressure on Nelson has only mounted as he remains on the fence when it comes to President Obama's health care agenda. The senator's office says it is currently getting calls at a nine-to-one rate from individuals who don't want him to support a public option for insurance coverage. PCCC and DFA, meanwhile, have pledged to triple the amount of money behind the ad it launched starring Snider.
Despite the personal outreach, Nelson did little to calm Snider's concerns.
"I told the senator that it's crazy that my health care premiums are almost equal to my housing payment. And I don't have a Cadillac plan. My coverage only covers catastrophic procedures," said Snider. "My insurance hasn't spent a dime on me. And now my rates are going up 42 percent."
Nelson offered to try and do something to find out why his rates had risen so dramatically. But he didn't offer to do the one thing Snider wanted to hear: support the public option. And that, in the end, might end up affecting how Snider votes the next time Nelson is up for reelection.
"I volunteered to put signs up for him," he says of Nelson's earlier runs for office. "But if he is not going to support this it is going to be real tough to support him next time around."
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