OMAHA, Neb. – It was the concern of Nebraska's Republican governor over expanded Medicaid costs in the proposed Senate health care overhaul bill that led to a compromise to cover his state's estimated $45 million share over a decade, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson said Sunday.
Gov. Dave Heineman "contacted me and he said this is another unfunded federal mandate and it's going to stress the state budget, and I agreed with him," the Nebraska Democrat said. "I said to the leader and others that this is something that has to be fixed. I didn't participate in the way it was fixed."
But Heineman expressed anything but gratitude, saying he had nothing to do with the compromise and calling the overhaul bill "bad news for Nebraska and bad news for America."
"Nebraskans did not ask for a special deal, only a fair deal," Heineman said in a statement Sunday.
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That criticism is only a taste of what Nelson has received since announcing Saturday that he would become the 60th vote needed to advance the landmark legislation.
Despite the perks Nelson managed to garner for Nebraska in finally agreeing to support the overhaul bill, the backlash from those who wanted Nelson to hold a hard line against the measure was immediate.
Abortion foes howled in protest. Nebraska Right to Life, which has long endorsed Nelson, issued a scathing statement that dubbed Nelson a traitor. The state's Catholic bishops followed Sunday with a statement that they were "extremely disappointed" in him.
The chairman of Nebraska's Republican Party declared Nelson's decision to be the end of his political career in Nebraska, and within hours of Nelson's announcement, the state GOP launched a Web site, http://www.givebentheboot.com, to collect funds to oust the Democrat in the 2012 election.
Nebraska's Republican Sen. Mike Johanns said he was "stunned and incredibly disappointed," and called the compromise's abortion language a "watered-down accounting gimmick that leads to Nebraska taxpayers subsidizing abortions in other states."
The compromise tries to maintain a strict separation between taxpayer funds and private premiums that would pay for abortion coverage. It would also allow states to restrict abortion coverage in new insurance marketplaces.
Nelson obtained increased federal funds to cover his state's cost of covering an expanded Medicaid population at what one Democratic official estimated at $45 million over a decade.
A group called Americans for Prosperity of Nebraska was to hold a rally Sunday in Omaha at which former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was to speak. Nebraska Republican Rep. Lee Terry also planned to speak in an effort to persuade Nelson to change his mind.
Nelson isn't taking the backlash lying down.
"This is all orchestrated," Nelson said Sunday. "It's so thinly disguised ... it's almost laughable.
"So far, the focus seems to have been on some people who are angry. They're ignoring the fact that not only were there good reasons to do what I did, but that there would have been a backlash the other way."
Nelson, the lone Democrat in Nebraska's five-member congressional delegation, does have supporters.
The Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, which advocates for the poor, praised Nelson's decision and urged people to thank him.
The Nebraska Democratic Party chairman called Nelson's decision "courageous" and dismissed Republican criticism of it.
"Whatever he did, they would be critical," Vic Covalt said. "They have no program and they have nothing to offer us other than more of the same."
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