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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Surreal times in Washington, DC

These days it seems a bit more surreal than usual in Washington, DC, if that were possible.
On Tuesday night we learned that Massachusetts, of all states, is sending a fiscally conservative Republican to Congress to put the kibosh on Sen. Ted Kennedy's healthcare overhaul legacy.
On Wednesday morning, I found myself sitting in an equally surreal meeting with Nebraska Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson and pro-life leaders. Once considered a fairly reliable pro-life voter, Sen. Nelson famously betrayed the hopes of pro-life advocates by voting to move the abortion-expanding Senate healthcare overhaul bill forward, in exchange for a permanent exemption from Medicaid cost increases for Nebraska—a.k.a., the "Cornhusker Kickback".
Just 17 percent of Nebraska voters approve of Sen. Nelson's deal. That would seem convincing enough for any politician, but our meeting revealed that Sen. Nelson hasn't quite gotten the message.
Deploring Tuesday's election that promised to derail the abortion-laden train he had helped push down the tracks, Sen. Nelson actually asserted that the pro-life cause had suffered a setback.
Why? Because he himself no longer can wield leverage as a holdout 60th voter in the Senate.
Sen. Nelson inexplicably expected the pro-life leaders in the meeting to swallow the bizarre logic that although he had used his 60th vote status to push an abortion-expanding healthcare bill through the Senate, somehow the pro-life cause is worse off now because the new senator from Massachusetts will vote to kill the bill instead of passing it in exchange for political kickbacks.
For Sen. Nelson, the meeting went downhill from there.
With emotion rising, he defiantly defended himself as a man of principle and castigated pro-life leaders who criticize him but don't have to "walk in my shoes."
When challenged on his strategy and voting in the Senate healthcare debacle, Sen. Nelson incredibly insisted, ""Yes, I would do it again."
To his credit, Sen. Nelson did vow during the meeting to vote against any healthcare bill that came back to the Senate without the Stupak amendment, which bars government subsidy of abortions. The House passed the Stupak amendment, but the Senate rejected similar provisions.
The political danger remaining for Sen. Nelson, however, is that he may never get a chance to redeem his vote. The House could simply send the Senate bill as-is to the President for signature.
In any case, the Nebraska senator's years of service and dedication to the pro-life cause appear doomed to be overshadowed by one monumentally mistaken judgment.

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