Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is pushing two bills changing portions of the health insurance overhaul he helped Democrats pass in early 2010 ahead of what will likely be a competitive reelection campaign next fall, tweaking a law Republicans hope will sink his campaign.
Nelson introduced two bills last week. One would fix a glitch in the new law that could allow middle-class Americans to receive Medicaid benefits designed for the poor. The other would repeal a part of the law that requires those with Health Savings Accounts to get a doctor’s note to spend any of the money they have saved.
Nelson will need to create distance between himself and his party in order to win in a state that gave President Obama just 42 percent of its vote in 2008, and these bills could be seen as a way to do that. He was the final Democrat to back the health insurance overhaul. He said in late 2009 that while he supported the bill, it was “not perfect,” and voted in early 2010 to allow a vote on the bill but voted against it because of added provisions unrelated to healthcare. Since then, he has backed a number of changes to the law.
Republicans were quick to jump on Nelson for introducing the bills: They
agree with him on the policy changes but said he should have fought for them
before agreeing to support the overhaul in the first place.
“Sen. Ben Nelson was literally the man who made government-run healthcare the law of the land, so it’s interesting that he’s working so hard to repeal portions of the bill,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Jahan Wilcox. “This legislation is proof that Nelson should have never voted for the bill and instead he should have joined the rest of Nebraska’s congressional delegation in voting no on government-run healthcare.”
Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson denied any political motivation for the bills.
"He has continued to look for and is continuing to look for ways to improve this bill — the things he is working on are policy issues to be addressed,” said Thompson. “It’s not an attempt to distance [himself from Obama] — it’s an attempt to improve the law.”
Nelson is a top Republican target in next fall’s elections. Announced Republican opponents include Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg, whom Nelson beat by a narrow margin in 2000.