WASHINGTON -- Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) insisted on Monday that he's opposed to fully repealing the president's health care law even as he has begun exploring ways to substantively revise and alter it.
In an appearance on a local Nebraska radio station, the longtime senator said he couldn't jump onboard Republican efforts to undo President Obama's signature piece of domestic legislation, at least until he sees a legitimate alternative.
"I'm perfectly prepared to join with others," Nelson told 1290 KKAR. "And I started on my own in two or three areas to develop legislation that would make some changes. But you don't throw it all out just because there are some pieces of it, or parts of it, that aren't working as good as some others are working."
"So I pledge to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle," he added. "But I want to see what their proposal is. For people who want to make other changes, when I want to make changes I have got alternatives. If other people wanted to make changes, I want to see their alternatives. This business of just coming in and throwing it all out just doesn't make sense."
The remarks from Nelson will, undoubtedly, be positively greeted by reform defenders. Among Democrats who would be likely to support Republican efforts at repeal, Nelson remains one of the most likely suspects. That he is, in fact, skeptical -- and so shortly after a 2010 election in which health care was remarkably vilified -- says something about the political appetite for a major repeal push. Nelson is up for re-election in 2012.
And yet, as is often the case with the Nebraska Democrat, the news comes with a few shades of gray. Late last week, to little fanfare, it was reported that back in April Nelson had written a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking the congressional research arm to study alternatives to the individual mandate requiring that most Americans obtain coverage.
Nelson's office declined to release the letter to The Huffington Post. But Kaiser Health News, which first reported the development, called it "significant." While Nelson has expressed skepticism of the mandate in the past, removing the provision without including other vehicles for ensuring expanded coverage could lead to skyrocketing premiums across the board.
"Senator Nelson has asked the GAO to evaluate alternatives to the individual mandate that would encourage people to buy health insurance under the new health reform law, and hopes for some information early next year," spokesman Jake Thompson told The Huffington Post.