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Sen. Ben Nelson offers a defense

I was up early this morning with a call from Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who was much kinder to me than I was to him in my column on Wednesday.

He insisted that the Sen. Harry Reid-crafted language in the Senate's health-care reform bill that exempts Nebraska from paying its share of Medicaid expansion was simply a “marker” – part of a legislative strategy to press for an “opt-out” of Medicaid expansion for all states in the House-Senate conference. Nelson has been a consist critic of unfunded federal mandates on the states over the years. We will see what the conference brings.

He also insisted that the legislative language on abortion he accepted accomplishes most or all of what the Stupak amendment does in the House. Nelson has a background in the insurance industry, and he explained to me in detail how premium payments covering elective abortion would be segregated in his approach. He stands, as far as I can tell, alone among pro-life leaders in this view of the compromise, which is criticized by the National Council of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life Committee and Congressman Bart Stupak himself. The fact remains that the federal government, under the Reid-Nelson approach, would subsidize private health insurance plans that cover abortion – a departure from longstanding policy.

I did not find these explanations compelling. But I found Sen. Nelson himself to be sincere and serious. And he showed me more Christmas spirit than I probably deserved.

By Michael Gerson  | December 24, 2009; 9:40 AM ET
Categories:  Gerson  | Tags:  Michael Gerson  
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Next: Health-care reform and politics as usual


Thank you, Mr. Gerson, for writing this quick take. We all need to be willing to critique ourselves and especially seek the fuller understanding that talking and listening, engaging in true dialogue, can give. Whether we agree or disagree we should at least be civil. If each one of us could be just a little bit kinder what a difference we would could make in the tone and emotional state of our country and world.

Posted by: laelyn | December 24, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse


This is clealy a moment of weakness for you.

Will you similarly admit your failings in the runup to the Iraq war? WMDs? W's response to Katrina where you blamed the Democratic Governor? How about your defense of Scooter Libby?

I thought not.

All you've done is lessened your chances to get a high-paying gig with faux news.

Really Michael, what would Roger Ailes think of you? After all, that's all that really matters with your type.

Posted by: Heerman532 | December 24, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Why you 'Crats criticizing Gerson for? Thanks to the bribes Nelson got, we (read: the people with money) have to pay for you clowns' healthcare and lifestyle (or lack of). Stop accusing Gerson of trying to go to Fox news when the lousy dems had to resort to bribery to pass their sham of a health-care "reform" bill. I guess when you don't have anything in life, you'll take anything you can get for free.. so congrats to you 'Crats for making us pay for your nanny state.

Posted by: homersimpson10 | December 24, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Btw.. stop referring to Fox news as "Faux" news. Just because Fox is the only news station doing any type of fact-finding on the Socialist Obama administration, that doesn't they're fake. Besides, we've heard enough liberal drama from CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, MSNBC, etc. for so many years.. it's about time some news station stops kissing up to the President every time he speaks.

Posted by: homersimpson10 | December 24, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Yonkers, New York
24 December 2009

Conservative pundit Michael Gerson is more kind to Democratic Senator Ben Nelson than I had expected--and this I find hard to understand.

Sen. Nelson had joined Sen. Joseph Lieberman in both their vicious efforts to eviscerate the health-care reform bill which got out of Democratic chairman Max Baucus's Senate Finance Committee. Both of them demanded and got concessions from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid which were clearly unreasonable or "over the top."

To both of them, I say: "Defensor tyrannus!"

Mariano Patalinjug

Posted by: MPatalinjug | December 24, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

May next Christmas be free from the Congressional corruption and bribery that we witnessed this Christmas.

It was a terrible example for our children to see.
Their view of government will be forever tainted.

Posted by: hairyhelmut | December 24, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson, the Stupak amendment made a "fungibility-of-money" argument. Essentially, the amendment was put forth under the reasoning that, if insurance were subsidized and even if the subsidies themselves could not be used for abortion, the subsidies would be freeing up money for the insurance company to use in providing abortion riders and/or freeing up money for women to purchase abortion riders. In other words, since a dollar is a dollar is a dollar, any subsidy, even if not directly for abortion coverage, would be enabling abortion coverage.

The problem with that argument is that, in its intellectual seductiveness, it takes people along an ultimately stupid path. By the fungibility argument, ANY money given to women that COULD be used to purchase an abortion or abortion coverage would be tantamount to paying for the abortion.

Therefore, any women working for the federal government who use their income to get an abortion would fall under this. Contracts given out by the federal government that pay employees who then use their income to purchase abortions fall under this. WIC, by providing money for food which then frees up money for abortions, falls under this. Section 8 housing vouchers, by providing money for housing which then frees up money for abortions, falls under this.

By this logic, Mr. Gerson, your previous boss President Bush funded abortions left and right simply by being in charge of the federal government. In fact, the Bush tax cuts, by giving people more money, enabled more abortions and therefore falls under this.

As I said, the fungibility of money argument is intellectually seductive but ultimate stupid as leads to this kind of absurdity. Taking Senator Nelson to task for NOT buying into the fungibility argument is really just evil (and most definitely, lacking in Christmas spirit) on your part.

Posted by: rlalumiere | December 24, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Fox wouldn't know a fact if it bit them.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 24, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Of course if a single republican senator cared about the uninsured in their own states they would have supported health care reform. Since those republicans are owned by the insurance companies they didn't care about the hundreds of thousands of their own constituents without health care. Republican's should'nt complain about bribing the senator from Nebraska when they are owned by the health insurance companies.

Posted by: orange3 | December 24, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

November, 2010 will be the last chance we will get to prevent a Marxist takeover peacefully. I agree with others that have commented that we must organize and make November, 2010 a major defeat of the Marxists. However, keep in mind that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". These rights are not granted by a government.

Posted by: mock1ngb1rd | December 24, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it amazing how the Republicans did not contribute to the strict party line vote.

Posted by: scottilla | December 24, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

This bill is Obama's Christmas gift to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Posted by: BGuardian | December 24, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

So, what Ben old you was that he changed his vote for nothing. Yea, that makes sense. I'm sure cornhuskers will be even more happy to learn that Ben voted for them to pay for abortions and everybody elses insurance in exchange for nothing. I think Ben was harder on himself than you were.

Posted by: rpatoh | December 24, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Gerson, the neo-con right-wing apologist still hasn't apologized to America for his full-throated support of an appointed administration that lied to America and the World in order to invade Iraq. Hundreds of thousands dead.

He was a major propagandist for the de-regulation that nearly threw the world into a 21st century Depression.

He's a pawn for The Powerful and has been wrong so many times it's amazing he still has a job.

Posted by: thebobbob | December 24, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Btw.. stop referring to Fox news as "Faux" news. Just because Fox is the only news station doing any type of fact-finding on the Socialist Obama administration,

TRY as they might FAUX NEWS self-labled and self vitimized themselves.

FAUX NEWS Fact finding
is a
Contradiction in Terms.

Even they admit they are really an CERTIFIED Hollywood like Entertainment organization.

IF you do not like the facts..



Posted by: Issa1 | December 24, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Sen. Nelson is a shill for the Vatican and big business, more specifically, BIG INSURANCE AND BIG PHARMA. The disctinctions among the Vatican, big business, and big phrarma are not always readily apparent, nor are those between the three and big government.

Nelon's status as senator is marked by conflicts of interest. He needs to go, the sooner the better.

Let him take his ill-gotten gains from big insurance and big pharma to a retirement home just outside the Vatican. There, he can spend the rest of his days reflecting on all the misery his "Catholicism" has brought to the world: On his active opposition to granting poor women choice; on the Vatican's efforts to prevent condom use in Africa, thereby assisting in the spread of AIDs, etc.

Nelson has to go. Ten million phone calls won't change that. He needs to go, the sooner the better.

Posted by: Farnaz1Mansouri1 | December 24, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I just watched a show that Chris Mathews aired with the top 10 news items of the year and sure enough, there was one on Rod Blagojevich showing him with a great sense of humor, I must say jumping from one talk show to another and claiming he was guilt free of trying to INFLUENCE a senatorial seat. After watching the Chairman Reid taking these "I'm for sale politicians" behind closed doors and sending back out in front of the TV cameras with their pockets full of cash I think the press and his Illinois political hacks owe Rod an apology. His acts, no matter what they are are like childs play compared to the democratic party antics.... I don't think this is over, the American people, as dumb and as ill informed as the left thinks they are have awakened to this criminal like behavior. Really watch what happens over the holidays prior to the Jan 18th reunion of these thieves to determine our fate... They will have to pay more to herd all these money hungry thugs in line to make the "right vote".. Hang onto your wallet..

Posted by: james_m_reilly1 | December 24, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Someone wrote:
"November, 2010 will be the last chance we will get to prevent a Marxist takeover peacefully."

Why? Do you want to eliminate social security, medicare, Medicaid etc?

Posted by: The-Historian | December 24, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Fox News is "real news"? HAHAHAHAHA. Wait a minute, this isn't April Fools Day. It's Christmas, right?

Posted by: wiltonsjs | December 24, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

November, 2010 will be the last chance we will get to prevent a Marxist takeover peacefully. I agree with others that have commented that we must organize and make November, 2010 a major defeat of the Marxists.


Obviously you have no clue to the definition of Marxism.

Posted by: dougharty | December 24, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

What democracy mean ......... much? ... Duh.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | December 24, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

The figure of ridicule that Senator Nelson has been for two weeks is who he will be for the rest of his life. His obituary will lead with this moment. He doesn't seem malicious to me: only befuddled, awkward, a buffoon from a corn state in way over his head. A "marker" for the fools to follow.

Posted by: miglefitz | December 24, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Ben nelson is bought and paid for,it is people like him(politicians) with such low moral standards,and such a lust for money and power.These men who sleep with lobbyists while the country is on the verge of bankruptcy.What noble men the Bens of the world are,incapable of feeling shame,they are the new breed of congress,or old who really knows.

Posted by: gilliam | December 24, 2009 9:09 PM | Report abuse

"The fact remains that the federal government, under the Reid-Nelson approach, would subsidize private health insurance plans that cover abortion – a departure from longstanding policy."

Um... so about that health care plan that congressmen and women get... I'm better it covers abortion.

Posted by: ihatelogins | December 24, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

thebobbob wrote:

"Gerson, the neo-con right-wing apologist still hasn't apologized to America for his full-throated support of an appointed administration that lied to America and the World in order to invade Iraq. Hundreds of thousands dead."

Michael Gerson was far more than someone who gave "support" for that administration, he was chief speech writer for it. He was the administration, as much as anyone was.

It's interesting to see this column. Watching Nelson and Lieberman almost single-handedly (double-handedly, I guess, since there are two of them) gut the health care bill and leave it empty, you wonder how they can live with themselves, listening to the majority of the country revile them for their extreme right wing heartlessness.

The majority of the public wanted a public option (close to 70% want it, in some polls) and yet these two allowed their religious fanaticism to overrule doing the will of those who elected them. Lieberman's state is heavily, heavily in favor of a public option for example, and he's highly unpopular, yet he refuses to listen to his constituents.

Then you hear about Nelson telephoning.... Michael Gerson? ... the next day, and realize that this is who Nelson is concerned about, one of the extreme right wing Neoconservative pundits for the right wing Washington Post, another example of an organization entirely out of touch with its largely Democratic and largely moderate readership (unless anyone imagines that the largely Democratic population of Washington DC is as right wing as Gerson, Krauthammer, Will, Kristol, Kagan, and on and on).

This explains a lot.

Oh and Merry Christmas Michael.

Posted by: BillEPilgrim | December 24, 2009 11:36 PM | Report abuse

As a Nebraskan I can confidently predict that this will be Ben Nelsons last term representing Nebraska.

He talks the talk when he is campaigning but he has repeatedly shown that he won't walk the walk.

this was the equivalent of Judas returning the thirty pieces of silver after the betrayal.

Posted by: dreadstalker | December 25, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse


Where were all the so-called fiscal conservatives when

-- the Medicare-D bill was passed. Cost: $800 Billion over 10 years. Just about the same as the health care bill except it only helped seniors with their pills. Written by Pharma.

-- the Iraq War was pushed through. Cost: $1 TRILLION and counting. No oversight or auditing. Transport planes with pallets of $100 bills. Paul Bremmer III has no idea where that $11 BILLION went. Yeah, right.

Now the tea-baggers say that they want their country back and they want fiscal responsibility.




Posted by: DickeyFuller | December 25, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

A man may smile and smile
And still be a villain.
Sen. Nelson, of course, dissembles:
To abandon principle for pelf he's quite willin'.

Rather than saying "abandon principle",
Perhaps it should be said that Sen. Nelson
Espouses the late Ev Dirksen's principled view:
"I'm a man of firm and unbending principles, first among which is to be flexible at all times".

But Sen. Dirksen had a sense of humor.

Posted by: Gonzage1 | December 25, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Gerson has Sen.Nelson's explanation and justification for getting special exemption to his state, Nebraska, from the requirement to share the cost of Medicaid between Federal and State Governments. Now that Nebrasaka and some other states have got this exemption, it is only fair that the remaining states also get this exemption.

Under the Senate approved health care bill, half of the 31 million currently uninsured people would be brought under Medicaid. The cost of this to the states is not taken into account by the CBO. If the cost to states is also taken into account, the total cost of the proposed reform would be much higher than the current CBO estimate. If all states get the exemption from meeting part of the cost of Medicare expansion as Sen. Nelson got, this would be a desirable development considering the fact that almost all states are currently facing problems in balancing their budgets. If this happens, other states would have reason to be thankful to Sen. Nelson.

Posted by: kathan | December 25, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats who voted for this bill, especially those who took bribes, remind me of the Bumpus hounds devouring the family turkey in A Christmas Story.

Posted by: Jerzy | December 25, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

It was a bribe plain and simple. Just demonstrates that they are not only the most incompetent Congress in the history of the US but also the most corrupt.

I just hope the people of Nebraska recognize it and get rid of him but I doubt it. Once people become beneficiaries of such practices they believe themselves entitled and will expect it on every occastion. Sad state of affairs for our Nation. Yesterday's vote was second only to Pearl Harbor for a day of infamny.

Posted by: staterighter | December 25, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson, you deserve no Christmas spirit or kindness of any sort. You supported and helped enable the Iraqi scam. Mr. Nelson's bribe is small potatoes in comparison. And it was a bribe. You sir, should be in prison along with your neocon buddies.

Posted by: jkarlinsky | December 26, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

The Senate has given us a beautiful example of the mixed allegiances and hypocrisy that are now so commonly accepted by cynical taxpayers that we don't even expect them to be honest.

Sen. Nelson can't be confused about his oath of office, can he? The Catholic Bishops are free to think they enjoy some special place in our government - but they don't.

I refer of course to the SELECTIVE use of religious beliefs as a blunt instrument to stop social progress. The same cynical Republican ideology that opposes abortion gladly and enthusiastically believes in the death penalty, and invasion and killing of innocents in foreign lands.

Mr. Gerson, you have no credibility in matters of honest politics. Your allegiance has not been shown to be for your country, but for yourself. You may continue to promote yourself as a fair analyst of political events, but most of us will se you as an apologist for the needs of the Republican Party far over the needs of the United States of America.

Posted by: rowens1 | December 26, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Sorry Ben,

But no sale. Call what you and other powerful Democratic senators did earlier this month what it was. That is, a "sweetheart deal" perpetrated by political scoundrels. Your party colleagues who permitted your corruption to occur by agreeing to simply go along to get along are little better. Shame on all of you and pity for the rest of us!

If your party manages to ruin the greatest economy in the history of the world with your insistence on getting your "slice of the vig," there will be H*** to pay this coming November.

And so it goes...

Posted by: pgould1 | December 26, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

so nelson, typical democrat, is looking out for his party and himself by his reelection, to the detriment of America and the principles of honesty and fairplay that America is founded on - GOOD JOB, NELSON - typical liberal hypocrite

Posted by: M_Algore | December 26, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Any one of 40 Republicans could have ended the special treatment Nelson demanded for his vote by voting for it themselves. They have no leg to stand on when it comes to their whining about it.

Posted by: timothy2me | December 27, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Nelson's demeanor is besides the point. He and other leftist pigs are on course to destroy this nation and cannot be cut ANY slack. Nebraskans need to do the right thing and send this imbecile packing at the next opportunity.

Posted by: DCer1 | December 28, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

A bribe by any other name is still a bribe!

The only way the dems can pass their Frankensteinhealth creation is by bribery and coercion - as someone else said here "what an example to set for our children."

Posted by: Moderate6 | December 28, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

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