Remember What The Fight Is About

December 19, 2009 6:12 a.m.

So Ben Nelson is in.

Harry Reid finally has his entire caucus on board for a health care reform bill. The 60-vote bar has been reached (until such time as Lieberman feels the spotlight drifting away, so who knows for sure). Truth be told, this sticking point on abortion coverage was a bigger deal than most people probably realized. It was a real threat to passage of a bill, so the agreement reached last night with a handshake and announced this morning is not mere window dressing.

What were the elements of the compromise on abortion? We’re still learning the specifics, but Think Progress’ The Wonk Room is reporting that there’s language in the bill that expressly provides additional monies to Nebraska (Nelson’s state) for Medicaid funding. I’m not familiar enough with the legislative language or Medicaid funding mechanisms to confirm that’s what the provision is intended to do, but given Nelson’s publicly expressed concerns about reform’s impact on his state’s budget it certainly seems plausible.Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) thinks so, too. In an entry on his Facebook page which he also tweeted, Cornyn links to the The Wonk Room post and acidly writes: “Apparently this was persuasive to Senator Nelson.” (Wry-humor points to ABC’s Jake Tapper, who tweets: “first time ive ever seen a Republican senator link to a ThinkProgress blog post.”)

For my money, increased federal Medicaid subsidies for a particular state ranks pretty low along the spectrum of pork barrel politics. Is it good policy to single out one state for special treatment? Probably not. Does it amount to the sort of sleazy special interest politics that awards fat federal contracts to major campaign contributors? Hardly. For those who would equate the two, what planet do you live on?

Reading through the comments on Cornyn’s Facebook page, you’d think Nelson had walked in through the front door of the Treasury building and stuffed his pockets with Ben Franklins on his way to the Caymans — or, as you’ll see below, had turned Christ over to the Romans:

* “Wow, like 30 pieces of silver!”

* “Sen. Nelson, word is you will sell your “yes” vote, and your credibility, for some Medicaid enhancements. If you chose to vote yes on this bill, know that you will have lost any credibility you may have had in the past for 30 pieces of silver. Thanks Judas.”

* “Yes, Nelson is a man of his convictions, which he will gladly SELL to the highest bidder!”

* “I’m sick of congress SELLING OUT the nation for their own selfish interest!!! Landrieu has done it, Nelson has done it. I say vote every last one of you out of office!!!!! You are destroying the nation!”

That last one is what got me. His own “selfish interest”? Trying to secure more money to help his state pay for health care for poor people? Really? It is just like the recriminations Landrieu received for bargaining for more federal dollars for her home state, and equally mystifying. Well, mystifying is overstating it. Equally dismaying.

I guess poor Americans should be thankful that the health care system is so badly broken that middle class voters and corporate employers are affected, because clearly they’d be getting no relief otherwise. When a significant segment of the country considers health care funding for the poor to be on par with bribery, and finds a comfortable home in one of the major political parties, we still have a lot of work left to do.

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