Nelson, liberals escalate feud

Liberal activists have significantly ratcheted up their brewing fight with centrist Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who will be a pivotal vote in the Senate’s healthcare reform debate.

A liberal activist working with an advocacy group founded by former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean has attacked Nelson as “bought and paid for by health and insurance interests” and suggested he is “corrupt” and “out of touch.”

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Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), made the charges in a scathing statement that said Nelson “feels perfectly comfortable lying to his constituents” if he continues to object to a liberal TV ad criticizing him.

Green vowed to expand the ad’s frequency, escalating a battle that could affect healthcare reform talks in Washington. Nelson cast one of the deciding votes for a $787 economic stimulus package earlier this year after he persuaded Democratic leaders to cut billions in spending from the bill.

The PCCC and Democracy for America (DFA), a group founded by Dean, recently launched the ad in Nebraska, which slams Nelson for delaying healthcare reform and accepting political contributions from the healthcare industry.

Green’s strongly-worded statement came in response to a statement made by Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson, who criticized the liberal groups’ tactics.

Thompson said the group’s “scare tactics are certain to further divide the public on healthcare reform, make it less likely Congress will pass real reform.

“If this is an indication of the politics going into August, then healthcare reform may be dead by the end of August,” Nelson’s spokesman concluded.

Green subsequently accused Nelson of threatening to kill healthcare reform:

“Did Ben Nelson really just say that if the grassroots keep pressuring him, he’ll kill healthcare reform?” Green wrote in a public response. “That’s unacceptable in a democracy, so we will be increasing our Nebraska ad buy on Monday morning.”

In the controversial ad, Mike Snider, a Nebraska restaurant owner, accuses Nelson of “leading the charge to delay heath reform this summer.”

“That’s exactly what they want; the health and insurance companies that have given Sen. Nelson over $2 million know that if they can stall reform, they can kill it,” Snider tells viewers.

Nelson’s spokesman responded: “Nebraskans don’t need outside special interest groups telling them what to think,” prompting a blast from his liberal critics.

Green then answered with a barrage.

“Ben Nelson just called a Nebraska small businessman whose health insurance costs went up 42 percent an our-of-state interest, while never disputing that Nelson is bought and paid for by health and insurance interests who gave him millions to vote against his own constituents,” Green said.

“If Ben Nelson stands behind his spokesman’s words, he just proved himself a fundamentally corrupt and out-of-touch politician who feels perfectly comfortable lying to his constituents and going to bat for private insurers who fear competition and want to rip off the people of Nebraska.”