Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson — who agreed to vote in favor of cloture of Senate debate in exchange for a number of special provisions in the “health care reform” bill, including one that required the federal government to forever pay Nebraska’s share of increased costs attributable to proposed expansion of Medicaid — has retreated in the face of a firestorm of criticism. Nelson has sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying that the deal has been misunderstood and misrepresented, that Nelson never intended Nebraska to get special treatment, and that the provision should just be eliminated from the bill to avoid any further misunderstandings. Reid, who struck the devil’s bargain with Nelson in the first place in order to secure Nelson’s vote, probably chuckled when he got the letter.
This development brings to a close the sorry spectacle of what I have called the Nebraska “Compromise” and what others have called the “Cornhusker Kickback.” By contending in his letter that it has all been a misunderstanding, Nelson shows himself as duplicitous as well as being an unprincipled hack who was willing to peddle his vote for some special deals for his home state. He ends up with the worst of all worlds — his crass political machinations were exposed, he was harshly criticized in Nebraska and elsewhere for his crude opportunism, and ultimately he was forced to beat a sniveling retreat and give up on the special deal that made him the target of irate comments in the first place. Presumably he will now meekly vote for a bad bill, because to do otherwise would demonstrate that his prior vote was, in fact, contingent upon the existence of the provision requiring special treatment for Nebraska.
The only good thing about the sordid story of the Nebraska “Compromise” is that it revealed for all to see the culture of corruption found in Washington, D.C. and showed that a public outcry can force a change. It is useful to send politicians the message that American taxpayers are paying attention to their shenanigans. Let’s hope that Nebraska voters remember the embarrassment their Senator brought to their state and vote Nelson out of office if he decides to seek reelection in 2012.