After a weekend of deal making, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson became the 60th vote to move health care legislation forward. Negative reaction in his home state is at a fever pitch and Monday he took his reasons directly to the people via the airwaves.
Caller after caller criticized him. "Listening to Nelson on the way home, I thought of an old Ghostbusters movie and felt I was being slimed," said one man.
Another caller said: "He's supposed to be representing us and he is not."
There were a few compliments for the senator during Tom Becka's show on KFAB. "People shouldn't lose everything they've worked so hard to gain just because they got sick."
Nebraska's senior senator said his reason to vote for health care reform came down to two things, doing nothing was not an option and by getting 60 votes, the Senate avoids a procedure that could have allowed some health care changes that even he didn't want.
"No matter how much you dislike this legislation," said Senator Nelson, "Let me assure you, they would hate this legislation under reconcilliation a whole lot more."
Both sides are moving quickly. Commercials are already airing in Omaha, ripping into Sen. Nelson for his yes vote while others are thanking him for the support. "Just because you are the loudest doesn't mean I necessarily follow you." He says he's received a number of calls from people who are proud of his decision.
Heated allegations were also being tossed out on the Senate floor. Nebraska's Republican senator and former governor Mike Johanns says if the health bill is so good, it should stand on its own merits, not special deals like Nelson secured for Nebraska.
"Nebraskans are frustrated and angry that our beloved state has been thrust into the same pot with all the other special deals that got cut here,” said Sen. Johanns. “In fact, Mr. President, they're outraged that a backroom deal for our state might have been what puts this bill across the finish line."
Nebraska Democrats lined up Monday in Lincoln to show their support. A handful of state senators gathered for a news conference. Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln praised Nelson for protecting Nebraska. Among the favors secured is $45 million in federal funding to cover the expanded Medicaid population and tax breaks for insurance companies Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nebraska and Mutual of Omaha.
"He's done his job, he’s put Nebraska first,” said Sen. Conrad. “He found ways to help ease the transition in Nebraska while protecting important industries, like our insurance industry, but moving forward to improve health care access. Ben Nelson has done his job and if anybody has a problem with that maybe they should take a lesson from him in terms of how to protect your state and its interests.”
The deal that could derail the bill is the abortion compromise. Senator Nelson says any coverage for an abortion would be paid for with a personal check and through private insurance that would not be a part of the government's plan. Many pro-life groups have been critical of the provision.
The Senate is on track to pass the bill by Christmas Eve. If that happens it will then have to be merged with a House version.