Senate's Deal: Compromise or Corruption?

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., speaking in the Senate on November 21, 2009.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., speaking in the Senate on November 21, 2009.

For Senate Democrats, the health care bill is all about the nation's well being.

"It's the right thing to do for America," Sen. Max Baucus said.

And all about righting a national wrong.

"We are called upon to right a great injustice," Sen. Tom Harkin said.

But behind this claim that they're doing this for the good of America, at least seven senators demanded deals worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to mostly benefit their home states, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

It started with Mary Landrieu. When reports surfaced she had been swayed with a $100 million Medicaid deal just for Louisiana, she bragged it was actually $300 million. The deal was so notorious, Republicans gave it a name.

"We have new words in our lexicon, the Louisiana Purchase," Sen. John McCain said.

Hotsheet: Tallying the Health Care Bill's Giveaways

Ben Nelson of Nebraska got the most unusual Medicaid deal. In exchange for his vote, federal taxpayers will now pay for most Medicaid expansion just in Nebraska - forever. McCain named this one too.

"It's the Cornhusker kickback," he said.

And while Democrats have claimed their bill saves big money cutting the extra benefits from Medicare Advantage, the fact is that won't happen in Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson got his 800,000 seniors an exemption.

The bill also had a mystery grant of $100 million to an unknown health care facility in an unnamed state. It doesn't say Connecticut but Sen. Chris Dodd admitted he wrote it, hoping Connecticut would get it.

Democrats shrugged off questions about the one state deals - saying this is how you get to 60 votes.

"That's what this legislation's all about - it's the art of compromise," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Republicans called it the art of corruption.

"And it's a shame that that's the only way we can come to consensus in this country is to buy votes," Sen. Tom Coburn said.

But Republicans may forget when they were in charge and pushing the Medicare drug benefit, their Majority Leader Tom Delay was formally admonished for trying to buy a last-minute vote with favors. And Delay's defense was that he didn't know trading favors was against the rules.

"A lot of people watching what happened in the Senate are probably outraged because it really is as if they were literally buying these votes. Is this business as usual?" CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric asked Andrews.

"You know what's interesting is that Democrats weren't even defensive about these deals," Andrews said. "They said all of them related to the needs of needy people. Mary Landrieu, for example, said her state was hit so hard by Katrina that all of her low-income folks needed every bit of that $300 million. Bill Nelson said his seniors were too reliant on Med Advantage. So if you were looking for embarrassment by Democrats, it wasn't there."

"This sure won't hurt when these senators are up for reelection, will it?' Couric asked Andrews.

"No, reelection is the motivator here," Andrews said. "Remember, Republicans want this to be a national scandal with people concerned about special treatment. But senators run in one state and they're going home to say 'here's what i got you.'"

  • Wyatt Andrews
    Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.