One of the president's top advisers criticized Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) on Thursday for threatening to filibuster health care reform despite his record of opposing that parliamentary tactic in the past.
In a conference call with progressive bloggers, White House senior adviser David Axelrod urged Nelson to drop his demand for stricter abortion limits and let the bill come to a vote.
"We are working hard to persuade Senator Nelson that this is in the best interest of Nebraska and his constituents and the country. And we will continue to do that as we will with other members of the Senate," Axelrod said. "And the main thing I would say to him and others members of the Senate is that after a long, long, long and thorough debate, let us have a vote.
"What we are arguing about today is not whether a majority support the bill in the Senate," Axelrod added. "A majority does. What we are arguing about is whether they will have a chance to express themselves and vote -- or whether a minority will thwart the majority and keep that vote from happening.
"And so my hope is that for Senator Nelson, who has always said under Republican administrations that we shouldn't use procedural maneuvers to try and keep bills from coming to the floor, that he will not allow that to happen here."
The rebuke of Nelson on grounds of being hypocritical on cloture votes is normal fare for Democrats and progressives who long ago tired of the Nebraska Democrat's histrionics with regards to health care reform. But it is surprising coming from the Obama White House, which has been abundantly cautious not to offend critical swing senators.
Indeed, the administration's unwillingness to criticize either Nelson or Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) for threatening to derail reform was likely one of the reasons behind the conference call in the first place.
The White House, in recent days, has publicly admonished liberal critics (notably, former DNC Chair Howard Dean) for suggesting that the Senate's version of reform has been watered down too far to support. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested that Dean was being irrational. And on Thursday morning, Axelrod called discussion of defeating a bill because it lacks a public option "insane."
Some progressive bloggers felt the White House was being too one-sided in its critiques. Asked whether Nelson, like Dean, was acting "insane" in wanting the bill killed over specific policy grievances, Axelrod replied:
I'm not professionally qualified to judge insanity. Maybe I should've used a different word. But let me tell you the basis from which I spoke. You know, this is to me not just a theoretical issue. This is a very personal one.
I've dealt with these issues myself in my life. I have got a child with a chronic illness. When I was a young reporter, we were in an HMO and my child got sick. And I ended up spending tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket that I didn't have. When I left that job I couldn't get insurance... I had to keep two policies. And the stress of that, getting her the treatment and the medication she needed, was extraordinary and difficult. And I know there are millions of people all over this country who are experiencing that. I see in these bills an opportunity to give help to those people so they are not in the position that I was in. So that is why. It wasn't just a about bending the curve. This is not just about dealing with the fiscal implications of the runaway costs of health care. This is about dealing with the human implications of a system that doesn't work very well.... That is the basis on which I reacted.
We have this extraordinary moment when we can win where we never could win before. And that's the basis from which I used that word. I don't doubt the sincerity of people in this debate on all sides. And certainly people in the progressive community, I know, care deeply about rectifying the very problems I'm talking about. But these bills will go a long way toward doing that and that's why I feel so strongly about that.