Ben Nelson: Health Care "Sweetheart Deal" Not Meant Just for Nebraska

(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) now says he never intended to give his state special treatment in the Democrats' health care legislation.

The moderate Democrat has been roundly criticized for a so-called "sweetheart deal" he struck with Democratic leaders in return for his support of the bill. In the deal, any expansion of Medicaid in the state of Nebraska would be paid for completely with federal funds, while other states would have to dip into their state budgets to meet the required expansion. Republicans called it the "cornhusker kickback."

Now as Democrats in the House and the Senate work to merge their two bills, Nelson says he is requesting that the federal government pay for the full Medicaid expansion in all 50 states, or allow states to opt out of their increased payments.

"I've been in serious discussions with Senate leaders and others to secure changes in the bill to treat all states equally," Nelson said in his statement. "At the end of the day, whatever Nebraska gets will apply to all states."

The favoritism shown toward Nebraska has been attacked from all angles, with some even questioning its constitutionality. Democrats in the House have questioned the deal, as have other Democrats in the Senate, like Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

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Governors from other states have joined in the chorus of attacks. Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada excoriating him for conducting "back room deals that helped Nebraskans at the expense of Nevada taxpayers."

Even Nebraska voters largely disapprove of the deal.

In his statement Wednesday, Nelson called the deal a "placeholder" in the bill that allows for Congress to now "work out fair and equal treatment for every state."

"My intent has been and remains absolutely clear," Nelson said. "Every state should be, and will be, treated the same."

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