KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Lawmakers, Public Take Aim At Deal Struck For Sen. Nelson

News outlets report on deals struck with individual senators, in particular Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., in an effort to win support for health care legislation.

"With the approval rating of Congress sinking in the polls and public opinion of their health care plan going down along with it, Democrats may have done themselves one favor too many this week when they riddled the bill with special deals for individual lawmakers," The Washington Examiner reports. Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., defended the deals, saying "[i]t's not different from other pieces of legislation. … We work compromises. That's what legislation is all about, the art of compromise." But Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, says "[e]ven if you say this is just the way it works, that doesn't mean the public likes it. … It stinks. And the public recognizes that" (Ferrechio, 12/23).

Star-Telegram: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott "said Tuesday that he and top prosecutors in a half-dozen other states plan to challenge the constitutionality of a healthcare compromise that exempts Nebraska from paying billions in Medicaid expansion costs, forcing other states to shoulder a bigger burden for the low-income insurance program. … One of the biggest gains for Nebraska requires the federal government to indefinitely pick up the full share of Nebraska's cost for expanding Medicaid, a federal-state program that provides medical coverage for low-income Americans. Other states will continue to finance the expansion. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the Lone Star State's share could be up to $20 billion over 10 years" (Montgomery, 12/23).

Lincoln Journal-Star: Nelson defended the deal, saying Tuesday in a Senate floor speech, 'It's not a special deal for Nebraska... [i]t is in fact an opportunity to get rid of an unfunded federal mandate for all the states,' by opening the door for others to follow suit. "During his speech, the Democratic senator expressed disappointment in Republican Sen. Mike Johanns for his role in attacks aimed at the Nebraska provision. 'I'm prepared to fight for the state of Nebraska,' Nelson said, 'and I hope my colleague is as well'" (12/22).

Omaha World-Herald: On the Senate floor, Johanns and others criticized the deals struck with Nelson. "Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., cited an editorial critical of the deals that carried the headline: 'Louisiana Purchase and Omaha Stakes.' The reference to local company Omaha Steaks apparently got Nelson's blood boiling, and he soon took the floor to deliver his own speech. 'I'm disappointed that this would be used, and misused in this fashion, not only derisively against a great company in Nebraska,' Nelson said. … Nelson said on the floor that there is still plenty of time for other states to get the same deal that Nebraska is getting before they're hit with the extra Medicaid costs" (Morton, 12/23).

In an interview with ABC News, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was asked whether he thought the deal-making process was "the right way to do business." Geithner answered "I do. … The legislative process works in mysterious ways in our country, but you have to focus on what the outcomes are and this is a good, strong package of reforms, better than I think many people would have thought was possible a month ago, three months ago, six months ago, nine months ago" (Jaffe, 12/23).

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that "[v]oters across the country are angry over sweet deals in the Senate health bill for a handful of Democrats who once threatened to block the legislation. Some Wisconsin residents are also wondering why their own senators failed to cut similar deals for the Badger State…. In Wisconsin, Walter and Elaine Moede of Sturgeon Bay were so angry about the special deal for Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson that they made public their letter to Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl demanding the senators fight to secure more Medicaid dollars for Wisconsin…. Scores of Wisconsinites flooded the senators' offices with angry phone calls making similar demands, leaving aides scrambling to respond to concerns that Wisconsin was being left behind. Addressing such criticism, Feingold and Kohl said they, too, fought hard for provisions that would benefit their state" (Marrero, 12/23).

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