Sen. Nelson's Cornhusker Kickback obscures debate


It's wrong to force all US taxpayers to pick up the tab for Nebraska in the proposed health-care legislation.

Trading votes for favors -- quid pro quo -- has been part of the political process long, long before the United States was a country.

So, it's hardly a surprise that backroom deals were being made at the U.S. Capitol as Congress hammered out the details of health-care reform. This legislation, after all, will have a huge impact on all Americans.

But the deal made by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., goes too far. Nelson essentially took a $100 million bribe.

Under the terms of a deal Nelson cut with Senate leaders to secure his crucial vote for the health-care package to move forward, the state of Nebraska would be exempted from having to pay for the coverage of its new Medicaid enrollees, according to a report on This leaves the federal government -- U.S. taxpayers -- to make up the difference, which is estimated at $100 million over the next 10 years.

Ironically, even folks in Nebraska are upset about this sweetheart deal. Nebraska is a relatively conservative state that leans Republican (Nelson is the only Democrat elected statewide). Many voters there are skeptical of the Senate's health-care plan and therefore are unhappy that Nelson provided the key vote to allow the legislation to remain alive.

That, however, could be the least of the problems for Nelson and the Senate Democratic leaders.

A group of 13 Republican state attorneys general -- including Washington state's Rob McKenna -- are threatening to file suit against the Senate health-care bill on the grounds the appropriately dubbed Cornhusker Kickback is unconstitutional.

"We believe this provision is constitutionally flawed," the attorneys general wrote in the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "As chief legal officers of our states, we are contemplating a legal challenge to this provision, and we ask you to take action to render this challenge unnecessary by striking that provision."

"... In addition to violating the most basic and universally held notions of what is fair and just, we also believe this provision of H.R. 3590 is inconsistent with protections afforded by the United States Constitution against arbitrary legislation."

The attorneys general have it right. As this health-care legislation makes its way toward becoming law, Congress would be wise to strip Nelson's quid pro quo from the Senate's version. The debate should be on whether this is the right health-care legislation for the nation.

At this point, we aren't convinced that either the House or Senate version are what the nation needs.

But what we are sure of is that the deal Nelson made for his vote is wrong.


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