Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the last health care holdout in the Senate Democratic caucus, said Sunday that he does not enjoy being the center of attention.
"I couldn't create the opportunity to be the 60th vote. It happened," Nelson said during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union." John King asked Nelson to respond to critics who've said that he is enjoying the spotlight in his position of leverage "a little too much."
"To them I would say, look, if you think it's fun having both sides on an issue mad at you when you're trying to do something in good faith, just think, it's like going home and getting bit by the family dog," said Nelson. "Who enjoys that?"
Of the atmosphere in the Senate, Nelson said, "the high intensity here is as harsh and as unforgiving and unrelenting as I have ever seen it in my nine years."
Nelson withheld his support from the Senate's health insurance reform legislation until Friday, when he was able to extract concessions regarding abortion coverage. Neither antiabortion nor pro-choice groups say they like the compromise, which will allow states to disallow plans that offer abortion coverage to participate in the "exchanges" that will be set up in 2014.
"I don't take my marching orders from a party or a group or any other entity," Nelson said. "And as in this case, I put together what I thought was appropriate, and I'm sorry that both sides didn't enjoy it. And that's the way it works. I'm an independent type of person. I'm not a lone eagle. I do consult. I do get input. But at the end of the day, I make my own decision about what to do."
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the second-to-last holdout, openly relished his starring role, which he used to compel Senate leadership to sacrifice a public insurance plan and a provision that would have allowed people as young as 55 to buy in to Medicare.
"My wife said to me, 'Why do you always end up being the point person here?'" Lieberman told the New York Times last week, reportedly grinning widely.