THE TREATMENT FEBRUARY 26, 2010
Ben Nelson may be making trouble again. According to The Hill, the Democratic senator from Nebraska told a local radio station, KLIN, he's not sure Congress can still pass health care reform:
I don't know if we can get a comprehensive bill through. Honestly, I just don't know. ... We may be forced to doing healthcare--to use my analogy--by making a pie a piece at a time, which is typically not the preferred way to handle legislation. But this is so big, and has so many moving parts and has so many supporters and detractors, that maybe that's the only thing you can do. Grab a piece of it here, grab a piece of it there and try to put together as much of it as you can.
It's always hard to know exactly what these sorts of quotes mean if you don't have the full context, which I don't at the moment. But it's worth remembering that he said similar things for most of last year, until he decided, in December, that he'd vote for comprehensive reform after all. This seems to be his way of doing business. He'll grumble a lot, particularly when addressing his more conservative constituents, but that doesn't always foretell how he'll vote.
Of course, Nelson's vote isn't as important as it once was. If the Senate's task is as simple as passing a reconciliation fix, just 50 senators will do and Nelson can say whatever he wants--particularly if his fellow centrists seem to feel differently. And that seems to be the case. Several have said publicly they are open to reconciliation. They are apparently signaling that, and more, in private. As one senior Senate aide told me on Thursday evening, after the summit,
If [the reconciliation bill] is in line with what the president proposed, moderates will likely deliver enough votes to put it over the threshold. We're ready to move on.
By the way, according to this aide and other sources, one reason Democratic centrists in the Senate are ready to embrace reconciliation is their frustration with stubborn Republican rejection-ism. When several Republicans voted against creating a fiscal commission they had once supported, even centrist Democrats took that as a sign that Republicans just aren't acting in good faith anymore. The GOP's unified opposition to a health care bill, even one that includes numerous Republican elements, is only intensifying that feeling. All of this is also a reprise of what we saw in December, when Republican threats of obstructionism turned even the mild-mannered Evan Bayh into a passionate, if temporary, partisan.
Update: Like I was saying, context is everything. Politico reports on the same interview:
The White House also got a big boost toward using reconciliation Friday when Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a key swing vote, told a local radio station that he wouldn’t vote against the bill just because leaders were considering reconciliation.
I can't seem to find the actual transcript online, so that's the best I can do for now.