The Washington Times reported last night Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE.) had told reporters no deal was agreed to after he emerged from a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other Democratic leaders. He went on to say health care talks were ongoing. What he failed to mention, through all of his rhetoric about his concern for pro-life language in the bill, was the huge Medicaid pay off to Nebraska being slipped into the health care bill. Essentially, the federal government will pay for Nebraska’s new Medicaid recipients. The provision is worth about $45 million for the first ten years.In fact, Nebraska will be entitled to 100 percent federal help from Medicaid forever.
“We have an agreement that the plan will not use federal dollars to fund abortions,” said Senator Nelson. “I believe we have accomplished that goal. It’s clear I wouldn’t have voted for this bill without these conditions.” It seems like Mr. Nelson was more concerned about federal Medicaid funding for Nebraska than abortion language.
The Reid-Nelson compromise would set it up so states could deny abortion coverage in the new health insurance exchanges. However, the compromise does not come close to the House’s more stringent Stupak-Pitts pro-life amendment. The Senate version established a “segregation of funds” circumstance that pro-life groups have already rejected. Pro-choice groups, on the other hand, are supportive of this compromise. Apparently, while flaunting his so-called pro-life credentials, Mr. Nelson gave the pro-choice crowd quite a victory with this “compromise.”
During a press conference this afternoon, I asked Senator Reid about how Senator Nelson’s acquisition of perpetual federal Medicaid funding for Nebraskans played into the negotiations for Senator Nelson’s vote last night. Here is a transcript from the press conference. (C-SPAN VIDEO-15 minutes in.)(bolding is mine):
TWT: Senator Reid could you talk about the full federal funding Senator Nelson had secured to expand Medicaid funding for Nebraska and how that may have played into the negotiations last night?
SEN REID: I worked with every Democratic senator and many of the Republican Senators to come up with the merged bill…and now the manager’s amendment to that merged bill. There were negotiations that took place with us…people up at this podium [Harkin, Dodd, Baucus] with…sometimes individually and Ben Nelson was just like the rest of them. We worked on things with him over a period of many, many weeks as we did with a number of other senators, so we have, as you look through this bill, that is being read now on the floor, of course, you will see there are a number of different interests different Senators have in the merged and in the manager’s package.
REPORTER: But Senator, Ben Nelson wasn’t like everyone else. He got…the state got one hundred percent state and federal
REPORTER: The reality is Senator Nelson and the state of Nebraska can read this and it looks like that is the one state that gets 100 percent federal help from Medicaid forever, so he gets something that other states don’t get.
REID: I would say this. If you read the bill, which I’m sure you will, you will find a number of states read it differently than other states. That’s what legislation is all about—-compromise. It’s compromise. We worked on different things to get a number of people’s votes, making a few efforts to get a few Republican votes. There are many things you will look at in this legislation and say, ‘I wonder why that happened?’ A lot of times you think that something was done. That was—-‘ahh that’s how you got their vote.’ Most of the time that’s really not true. Some of the time it is, but with Senator Nelson that was a minor part of the issues. We started working on that weeks and weeks ago… that revision
It seems as if there will be more surprise pay offs in the future, as we look more closely at this bill, or as Senator Reid calls them…”different interests.”