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Sen. Ben Nelson's Chronology

Editors' note: This chronology and introduction were written by Sen. Ben Nelson [D-Neb.] and his staff, and circulated to the media in late February 2010 by his communications director as part of a continuing attempt to counteract the perception that his vote for the Senate health care bill was a quid pro quo for an estimated $100 million in Medicaid aid.

Senator Nelson would like to share the facts on his efforts to blow the whistle on a $35 billion unfunded federal mandate in health reform, and the origin of the Nebraska Medicaid provision in the Senate health care bill. Senator Nelson, a longtime foe of unfunded federal mandates as a former governor and now senator, always sought relief for all states. Partisans and others immediately labeled and mischaracterized the Nebraska Medicaid provision to help defeat health reform. Here is a chronology of events.


Lincoln Journal Star (NE): "Nelson is 'very concerned' about a proposal to expand Medicaid coverage. 'That's very expensive, and it could have serious consequences for the state,' he said. A new unfunded federal mandate could recreate 'the Pac-man who ate the state budget' when he was governor, Nelson said."


Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman writes to Nelson [PDF] about the Medicaid expansion in health reform legislation: "the program quickly becomes a substantial unfunded Medicaid mandate … the state cannot afford an unfunded mandate … of this magnitude."


Nelson responds in letter to Heineman stating that he agrees the unfunded mandate is unacceptable and is requesting that "States be allowed to opt in to the Medicaid expansion."


The Hill newspaper: "Nelson's is also concerned about the level of new spending in the bill, particularly the financial burden it could place on state Medicaid budgets, as well as the taxes included to finance it. The spending provisions could create an 'underfunded federal mandate for the state of Nebraska,' Nelson said."


Senate staff says that the Congressional Budget Office is unable to provide a score, fiscal analysis, of the cost of an opt-in for the states. They insert the Nebraska Medicaid provision into the Manager’s Amendment, which Nelson did not ask for but accepts. Hours later, after he wins inclusion of new abortion language in the manager’s amendment he says he will vote for reform.


Nelson announces support, Republicans attack. Politico publishes a story at 7:56 p.m. with the lead: "Ben Nelson’s 'Cornhusker Kickback,' as the GOP is calling it, got all the attention Saturday, but other senators lined up for deals as Majority Leader Harry Reid corralled the last few votes for a health reform package."


Roll Call Republicans Attack 'Cornhusker Kickback': … "Republican Senators Sunday evening took to the Senate floor in a coordinated, political effort meant to embarrass the Democrats …"


In response to what critics have labeled the "Cornhusker Kickback," Nelson delivers floor rebuttal on how the Government should not pass unfunded federal mandates onto the States.


Nelson released statement that he was working with Senate Leadership to ensure that all States were treated fairly under the Medicaid expansion.


Nelson writes letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid reiterating call to relieve all States from unfunded federal mandate in health care.


Washington Post story on Medicaid provision and unfunded mandates: "Nelson said, he proposed that every state be allowed to cancel the expansion of Medicaid after 2016, when the full federal payments would stop. As a counterproposal, he said, negotiators suggested the permanent payments for Nebraska, estimated to cost $100 million in their first decade. Several Senate sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Nelson's account that the money, as one said, 'isn't something he came asking for.'"


Nelson delivers floor speech vowing to continue fight against unfunded federal mandates. CBO sends letter to Rep. Ryan that the unfunded mandate would cost all states $35 billion through 2019.


President offers new reform proposal replacing Nebraska provision with additional federal money for all states in the Medicaid expansion, which Sen. Nelson applauds in statement.


Linda Douglass, communications director, White House Office of Health Reform, affirms that Sen. Nelson was trying to "make sure that all states were protected from additional burdens as they try to cover low income people through the expansion of Medicaid in their states. That's really what he wanted. That is, in fact, what we wound up with in the new proposal from the president."

posted april 13, 2010

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