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Ben Nelson Does Not Think You're Paying Attention

PH2009062702968.jpgSen. Ben Nelson isn't happy about the surtax on the rich that's being proposed to fund health-care reform. But not because he doesn't like it. Rather, because his constituents won't like it.

“Tax is a four-letter word” with voters, said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). Even families not ranking in the top 1 percent of earners “hope they’re going to be there someday,” he said. “So they don’t necessarily think it’s fair.”

The only problem with that statement is that it isn't true. Nelson made this comment to The Washington Post. But as Jon Chait points out, a few weeks back, The Washington Post polled voters on different ideas for funding health-care reform. One of the questions asked whether you would "support or oppose raising incomes taxes on on Americans with household incomes of over $250,000 a year to help pay for health-care reform."

A solid 60 percent supported that idea. Merely 37 percent opposed it. And that's not even the idea on the table: This policy would raise taxes only on voters making more than $350,000 a year, not $250,000. Presumably, even more Americans would support it.

This is a nice example of a tic unique to legislators and particularly common with Ben Nelson: the constituent voice. Some politicians talk in the first person ("I oppose raising taxes on the rich"). Some talk in the third-person ("Bob Dole opposes raising taxes on the rich"). And then some talk in the constituent person ("Voters oppose raising taxes on the rich"). The problem with the constituent person, however, is that it's falsifiable. And in this case, it's false.

And, presumably, Nelson knows that. Taxing the rich may or may not be right, but it's not broadly unpopular. Nelson, however, isn't explaining this vote to Nebraskan voters. He's explaining it to the congressional reporters at the paper that covers Washington, D.C. And he's dodging: He's hiding behind the will of the people, even as he's betraying it. And that's the problem with the constituent voice. It's not simply used to reflect the preferences of voters. It's just as often used to hide the preferences of legislators.

Photo credit: Twp Photo .

By Ezra Klein  |  July 16, 2009; 9:41 AM ET
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This is hilarious. Politico has had Ben Nelson listed as following all day: "Obama meets with more Republican senators — Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe — on health care."

That's quite a bit of editorializing, even for Politico. ;-)

Posted by: CarlosXL | July 16, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

In every way that matters except who he votes to be majority leader, Ben Nelson *is* a Republican. I wish he'd just get it over with and switch parties already.

Posted by: redwards95 | July 16, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Ben Nelson is backed by big insurance companies, and he will be a rather fat speed bump in the path of getting any major health-care legislation passed. When he's speaking for the "constituents" he means the ones who work for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

from Nebraska

Posted by: bknott19 | July 16, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Let us ban the phrase "the American people" from all further political discourse.

Posted by: ferrellms | July 16, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

yes, i agree... ever since i first heard the phrase 'the amurrican people aren't gonna stand for this' come out of poot gingrich's mouth in 1994, i have wept over the plight of the roobocracy

Posted by: lambcannon | July 16, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

What do you expect from the 'king of pompous Senate'!

The question is whether the Media is going to do the duty of 'hounding' these phony law makers or not.

Exposing their double talk is of paramount importance and this blog post is one step in that direction.

Posted by: umesh409 | July 16, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

If Ben Nelson thinks you aren't paying attention, he's right. Or you're deliberately misrepresenting his constituency. That poll was of 1001 adults, nationwide. Presuming the sample was proportional to the actual distribution of adults nationwide, 6 Nebraskans were included. (It's unlikely there were even that many; national polls are typically sampled by census region, rather than state.) Ben Nelson's constituents are Nebraskans, and research -- conducted in Nebraska, wherein actual Nebraskans were interviewed -- indicates they are tremendously tax averse. So before you criticize Nelson, and write flashy headlines about what he does or doesn't think, you might consider that he is perhaps slightly more familiar with the Nebraskans he represents than you are.

Posted by: ehayes1 | July 16, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Let's face it, we're not going to get anything through unless we treat this as a national campaign requiring the same level of grassroots involvement from people as if we were electing a president.

This is our big moment. Electing Obama was just prologue.

Posted by: leoklein | July 16, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Ben Nelson drives me crazy too but in fairness to him you're talking about a national poll while he's talking about constituents in Nebraska. Do you really think there's no difference between national political opinion and opinion in his state? Now maybe it wouldn't be political suicide, maybe in Nebraska only 47% support the tax, which would hardly be so overwhelming as to fear the unending wrath of Cornhusker voters. But it's still unfair to say Nelson is being disingenuous - on this one point - when you're refuting the comment with national opinion polling.

Posted by: kordsmicah | July 16, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

" Even families not ranking in the top 1 percent of earners “hope they’re going to be there someday,” he said."

Nelson is voicing the American Fantasy, as opposed to the American Dream. "You, too, can hit the lottery," Nelson declared. "I did!"

One of the key planks in the conservative movement platform, aka Ultimate Cynicism.

Posted by: PoliticalPragmatist | July 16, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Screw hoping to be in the top 1 percent. How about hoping not to get bankrupted by medical bills? That's doable.

They're not Blue Dogs: they're Blue Cross Democrats.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | July 16, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse


Come back and tell us what you think when you get some experience and life miles under your belt or at the very least after you turn 35 years old. Nothing more of an irritant than some young punk mouthpiece telling me about life’s fastballs.

Go away.

Wapo, WTF? Stop hiring children!

Posted by: spiderbyte88 | July 17, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

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