Sen. Ben Nelson: Healthcare repeal effort a GOP 'gimmick'

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), another Democrat near the top of the GOP's 2012 target list, predicted that unless Republicans offer an alternative plan, the party's healthcare repeal efforts will be "seen as a gimmick."

Nelson told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that the law contains many positives, suggesting it was irresponsible for Republicans to be talking repeal without offering a viable alternative.  

“Where is the House plan?” asked Nelson. “Repeal means going back to the prior system where insurance premiums were raising at 10 percent each year and in some cases much higher than that and families anguished when their children were denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.” 

The Nebraska Democrat said repeal would result in "a great deal of uncertainty" and put a strain on the still-struggling economy. 

The new House Republican majority plans a vote on full healthcare repeal next Wednesday, but the effort is unlikely to even make it to the Senate floor, which is still controlled by Democrats.  

Yes votes on healthcare could drag down the reelection hopes of a number of Senate Democrats in 2012, but the issue is an even tougher one for Nelson. In late 2009, it was Nelson who provided Senate Democrats the 60th vote they needed to win passage in the upper chamber. 

Nelson's support of the measure came after winning concessions on abortion funding language and a deal for the federal government to permanently cover the state's Medicaid expansion costs. It came to be derided by critics as the "Cornhusker Kickback." 

A poll released last month from the Republican firm Magellan Strategies showed Nelson's numbers well into the danger zone as he faces reelection. The poll found 52 percent of likely voters hold an unfavorable view of Nelson, compared to just 43 percent who view him favorably. 

The poll also found 63 percent of voters opposed to the healthcare law and just 29 percent of voters who said Nelson deserves reelection.

Nelson also trailed in hypothetical 2012 match-ups with state Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) and state Treasurer Don Stenberg (R). 

Bruning, who led Nelson 52-38 percent in the Magellan poll, officially kicked off his Senate campaign Wednesday, filing to run against Nelson.