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The Exquisite Stratagems Of Ben Nelson

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Over at Wonk Room, Igor Volsky delves into the curious mental machinery that guides the words and deeds of Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). And Lordy, it is just a swamp of bizarre logic!

If you recall, when the Senate was in the thick of debating the legislation that eventually became the current health care reform bill, Nelson battled the Senate Democrats to get some kind of Stupak-esque abortion restrictions into the bill, withholding his all-important 60th vote until he won a compromise measure that was inserted into the bill.

But, as Volsky reports, in an interview with, Nelson explains that his grand gambit was to offer his 60th vote to get the Senate bill passed, and then withhold it when it came back from the conference committee, in order to get his original Stupak-esque amendment re-inserted into the final bill.

LSN: OK, so you were planning on coming back...

NELSON: Absolutely. That is what I was just trying to tell the gentleman who was arguing about the 60th vote.

LSN: What made you think that it had a shot, after conference?

NELSON: Because they needed 60 votes again.

LSN: Right, but before, you voted for it even without it -

NELSON: To get it there...But, once it went to conference, as part of the conference, there was still another 60 vote threshold, and that is when I would have insisted and that is what Christy was talking about when I mentioned this on the phone - how we would approach this in conference to say, for my last 60th vote, it has to have Nelson/Hatch/Casey.

LSN: Why didn't you stop it right then and there and say, "No Nelson/Hatch - nothing."

NELSON: Because, at that point and time, the leverage wasn't as strong - you have to play it

LSN: So, if we got to conference and it was just the Nelson not the Nelson/Hatch/Casey - you would say 'yes' because you think it was good enough.

NELSON: I could have but I was going to say - and this was all the plan - that I would insist that it be Nelson/Hatch/Casey.

So, if I have this right, Nelson is basically saying that he would signal his assent for the Senate bill and then, at the worst possible time, start grandstanding again at the very moment the reconciled bill needed his vote again. This is what is commonly known as a "dick move."

Compounding this is the fact that Nelson admits his amendment is an entirely redundant piece of policy:

NELSON: Well, that there is very little chance in the procedures that are out there for pro-life legislation to exist if it is through the reconciliation process, it is unlikely that pro-life language barring federal funds would exist. That doesn't mean that Hyde doesn't apply - Hyde will still apply.

LSN: Which Hyde language are you referring to? You mean the one that applies to Health and Human Services?

NELSON: That would still apply - in my opinion...It would apply to any federal legislation, I think, unless it specifically exempted it. The effort here was to make it very clear.

LSN: So, the Hyde language already present applies to the health care bill as well?

NELSON: I believe that it does. It has. That is the way that it has been interpreted over the years.

LSN: So, why did you push so hard for Nelson/Hatch?

NELSON: Because we wanted to make it imminently clear.

LSN: You wanted to make it clear, but you don't feel it was necessary?

NELSON: I think it was probably necessary to clear up any question about it that somebody might have - but if Hyde truly applies...It was a belt and suspenders approach...

Uhm... if I could make an observation here, it seems to me that the real reason Nelson gave his vote in the first instance is because he cut a deal for Nebraska to have the federal government pick up the state's tab for Medicaid. Nelson was probably operating under the assumption that his constituents would love him for doing so. Turns out, they didn't. And since then, Nelson's been subject to an intense backlash for cutting this deal, and has been trying to walk it back. So, now he seems for all the world to be attempting to manufacture some principles.

What's especially weird about this is that, at the moment, Nelson knows that if health care reform advances in any meaningful way, it's going to be through the Senate bill being approved by the House, thus bypassing the "leverage" of his 60th vote. Of course, the House will only likely pursue that course of action if they win the concession of having additional teeth put into the reform bill through budget reconciliation. But Nelson's already come out against participating in reconciliation votes!

So, that's Ben Nelson, super-genius.

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