Nelson Defends Blocks: ‘I Did Not Vote No Because Of Berkshire’

When Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) voted with Republicans three times to block financial reform legislation from coming to the Senate floor for debate, many — including TPM — pointed out that Berkshire Hathaway, the company of Omaha investor Warren Buffett, had pushed hard for a provision that would have protected existing derivatives from certain regulations. Nelson, who owns millions in Berkshire stock, had supported the provision, a provision that had been stripped from the bill in negotiations.

Yesterday, Nelson lashed out at what he called the “cesspool of gotcha politics” and defended his votes.“To be absolutely clear, I did not vote no because of Berkshire Hathaway. Nor did the fact that I and my wife have owned Berkshire stock for 30+ years have anything to do with my vote. It has never been an issue. It isn’t now,” he said in a statement. “I voted no because of concerns about what is in the underlying bill drafted by Senator Dodd.”

He said he did support the exemption Berkshire wanted, as a matter of policy. To force existing contracts to conform to new rules, he said, would be unconstitutional.

“For months we’ve heard concerns that proposed regulations on derivatives contracts extend too far by seeking to make new rules retroactive, not for just future contracts,” Nelson said, adding that senators received letters from hundreds of businesses.

“We’ve also heard from Berkshire Hathaway. When Berkshire Hathaway — one of America’s most successful businesses that had nothing to do with the economic crisis we’re in — tells us they will be similarly adversely affected, of course I will listen.”

The exemption had been included in the Senate Agriculture Committee’s derivatives regulation bill, but was removed in negotiations between Chairman Blanche Lincoln and the Senate Banking Committee.

“There’s an important principle at stake. Big government should not reach back and rewrite existing contracts between American companies executed in good faith that help our economy grow. It’s unconstitutional. Not only that, it’s just wrong,” he said.

After Nelson and Senate Republicans voted three times this week to block debate, the GOP relented yesterday evening and agreed to allow the bill to move forward. Debate is scheduled to begin at 12:15 p.m. today.