Senators defend deals to Nelson, Landrieu

Two Democratic senators on Sunday defended deals made to on-the-fence lawmakers in order to secure their votes to pass healthcare reform.

When asked about the extra funding for Nebraska and Louisiana -- dubbed the "Cornhusker Kickback" and "the Louisiana Purchase" by Republicans -- secured by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said on "Fox News Sunday" that the Medicaid expansion for Nebraska could be "without a whole lot of meaning."

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"No Congress can bind a future Congress" to expand Nebraska's Medicaid deal past 2016, when expansion in other states would run out, Conrad said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) brushed off the contention that deals to secure votes indicated business as usual in Washington.

"People fight for their own states," she said. "That's the nature of a democracy."

Before a key procedural vote on the healthcare reform legislation in weekend session last month, Landrieu was promised $300 million in extra federal funding for her home state.

And along with compromise abortion language in the bill won Saturday, Nelson also won a major concession on the proposed expansion of Medicaid to everyone with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Nelson, along with governors of both political parties, expressed anxiety that the expansion would burden state budgets. Under the manager's amendment, the federal government will cover more of the cost of the expansion than under the original bill, with special additional funding for Nebraska.


Also on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) decried the Nebraska deal as a "burden" to other states.

"That's why they're in the position of having to buy the last voter," McCain said in lamenting that the GOP had not been invited to the table to hammer out healthcare reform.

Conrad also noted that the final healthcare bill to come out of conference would need to look more like the Senate bill than the more liberal House version.

"Any bill is going to have to be very close to what the Senate has passed," he said. "Otherwise it will not get 60 votes."