December 28, 2011

SOME BEN NELSON HISTORY:

Nebraska’s Ben Nelson announced today that he will not seek re-election next November, despite the please of Harry Reid and other Democrats. Presumably Nelson chose to retire in response to polls that convinced him he faced an uphill battle.

One of the sources of Nelson’s unpopularity in Nebraska was his vote for Obamacare. So this is an opportune moment to recall the Cornhusker Kickback, one of a number of acts of outright corruption on which Obamacare was based. The Kickback provided that the federal government would pick up Nebraska’s tab–but only Nebraska’s–for the new Medicaid recipients that would be created by the statute, apparently in perpetuity. That was the bribe that Obama needed to get Nelson’s vote, and Nelson evidently thought his sweetheart deal would insulate him against criticism for voting for the unpopular bill. One wonders: how can such a special arrangement for a single state possibly be constitutional? But constitutionality was never a big concern where Obamacare was concerned.

To Nelson’s surprise, perhaps, the kickback didn’t entirely placate his Cornhusker constituents. What is wrong with those people? Don’t they know a good payoff when they see one? Maybe Thomas Frank needs to write a new book called What’s the Matter With Nebraska?

The moral, I suppose, is that there are still a considerable number of voters–in the red states, anyway–who are not interested in being bought.

Indeed. This may have been his first hint:

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and his wife were leaving dinner at a new pizza joint near their home in Omaha one night last week when a patron began complaining about Nelson’s decisive vote in favor of the Senate’s health care bill.

Other customers started booing. A woman yelled, “Get him the hell out of here!” And the Nelsons and their dining companions beat a hasty retreat.

“It was definitely a scene in there,” said Tom Lewis, a 41-year-old dentist and registered Republican who witnessed the incident. A second witness confirmed the incident to POLITICO.

It’s a new experience for Nelson.

He used to be a popular figure back home, a Democrat who served eight years in the governor’s office and was elected twice to the Senate by a state that’s as red as the “N” on the University of Nebraska’s football helmets.

But Nelson has seen his approval ratings tumble in the wake of his wavering over the historic health care bill, his deal-cutting with other Senate Democrats and, ultimately, his support to break a GOP filibuster and send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee.

Good riddance.