Tuesday January 26, 2010

Interview with Sen. Nelson – Complete Text

By Kathleen Gilbert

January 26, 2010 ( – This following is the complete text of’s interview with Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson on Wed., Jan. 20, 2010:

LSN: What is the message that you want pro-lifers to know? How do you feel now about the vote? What do you want pro-life community to know right now about how you feel?

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 … to make sure that it was clear that it didn’t…In my language, that some didn’t care for, we also put in there that states had the right to ban insurance abortion coverage, whether for private or public plans. Public with it right now is banned, but private, we think, is open to question. Five states have banned abortion insurance coverage in their states. They say, “Well, they can do that now,” but I said that I didn’t want somebody to say that the passage of this new legislation pre-empted the states from doing that. This was just a belt and suspenders approach, but I think an important one to make the statement that, with these public exchanges that would be in the bill, that, somehow didn’t change things so that Hyde didn’t apply anymore. This was just to make it clear.

LSN: What is your feeling – negative or positive – on the Brown win last night?

NELSON: Oh, I don’t know. That remains to be seen. I don’t know Brown, I don’t know Coakley. I don’t know. What it does mean is that there will have to be an effort at bipartisanship, and in that sense I think that is good. I don’t know about Mr. Brown or Ms. Coakley but I do think that moving towards bipartisanship will be important.

LSN: How do you think that the Brown win would effect our ability to come up with a really pro-life bill?

NELSON: Well, he is not pro-life.

LSN: You were saying something about leverage … your leverage is now the 59th instead of the 60th.

NELSON: Well, there is no leverage as 59th. He’s on the other side, so I don’t see him coming over as a first person but, like I said, just one pro-life Republican stepping forward today, saying to the Democratic caucus, “I will support cloture and the conference report but here are my requirements,” and then the Democratic caucus would have to decide whether or not that was worthwhile.

LSN: The Cornhusker kickback – I know that got a lot of bad press in Nebraska, a lot of bad press in the pro-life field…

NELSON: It was misunderstood and misrepresented both. It was not about pro-life. What it was was about making sure that the unfunded mandate that starts in 2017 by the extension of Medicaid, that that would not be borne solely by the states after 2017. There was a time to get a Congressional Budget Office scoring for an opt-in or an opt-out and so they line-itemed it with something for Nebraska so that, at conference, we could work to take that language out and then have it apply to all states.

LSN: Did you expect such negative feedback from Nebraska voters?

NELSON: No. I wasn’t expecting negative feedback because it wasn’t supposed to be just for Nebraskans. I didn’t do it just for Nebraska. I did it for all the states, but unfortunately it got done this way. This was way down my list of requests. My first request was no public option, the second request was adequate language for abortion and I had two or three other things that I thought were important as well, including a study on tort reform and enabling insurance to be sold across state lines and stuff like that. I mentioned this as a problem – if we have to continue to come out and bail out state budgets, current state budgets because of Medicaid costs, why are we adding on Medicaid costs in the future so that we have to do it in the future too. It was too complex for those who didn’t understand it and just complex enough for those who did understand it to twist it. And so, the Cornhusker kickback – if it ever comes through – the Cornhusker kickoff for all states.

LSN: So, that was fairly low on your list of priorities?

NELSON: Absolutely.

LSN: What was the thing then that changed your vote? In the week leading up, you sounded pretty solidly against the bill, at least from your quotes … on that Saturday morning, it seemed that something really drastic happened. What was it that really did it for you?

NELSON: Well, Friday night – what happened, whatever night it was, we got the commitment that the public option was gone, I scrubbed dozens of other things out of it that federalized the bill to take it out – I defederalized it so that it would be a state option, not a national option. There would be no public option. It would be state-based. It would be private markets to keep the FTC out, to keep the Health and Human Services out unless invited in and all kinds of other things. When we got all those things done, then I could support the bill the way that it was – knowing that when I went to conference, that I could come back with Nelson/Hatch/Casey.

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. Right. I know – with my language which was better than the language in the bill. 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: You were the 60th vote, though.

NELSON: Yes, but there were some on the other side who probably wouldn’t have gone along with it at that point – they would have had no choice. A whole bunch of people didn’t the Nelson/Hatch/Casey – you saw that. There were a whole bunch of people who didn’t like the Nelson language – they only went along with because I could be the 60th vote. Leverage increases, exponentially, like the difference between a number 2 earthquake, 3 earthquake, 4 earthquake – goes up exponentially like that – your leverage goes like that at the very end.

LSN: So, you are saying that the reason why you held off is —

NELSON: I thought my language was good enough if we all failed – I still do. I disagree with those who don’t like the language – they didn’t write 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.

LSN: But you were saying that Nelson is good enough, though.

NELSON: If everything failed, Nelson is better than the language that is in the bill.

LSN: Right, it is better. But is it passable, all the way?

NELSON: Not — because some people didn’t like it. I think it is good enough; quite honestly, I will stand by that forever. But what I am saying is that the step from the language, you all needed a half step in between for the pro-choice people.

LSN: Right, you gave a little.

NELSON: Well, I gave a little – a half-way in between and then you ask for it all. It is hard to explain.

LSN: In the end, say it was just Nelson language, – in theory, would you vote just Nelson.

NELSON: I don’t decide votes in theory.

LSN: Do you think Nelson is passable into law?

NELSON: Nelson is passable into law – but my preference was something more like Stupak and it was more political because you also had to get the House. So, you had to get the Stupak in – and I would say, in some peoples’ minds, to put it this way, Nelson was half way in between the Senate language and Stupak. I think it was sufficient, but for some people it was only half way there, so if you are going to match Stupak, you match him at the end when you have the most leverage.

LSN: In your personal opinion, if you saw Nelson in the law, you would be satisfied?

NELSON: I could live with Nelson, but it is not my preference.