By J. Taylor Rushing - 11/22/09 03:51 PM EST
Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) — two senators close to conservative elements of their opposing parties — on Sunday staked out opposing positions on Saturday's successful Senate healthcare reform bill, each arguing for their party's positions but on different platforms.
On ABC's "This Week," host George Stephanopolous immediately asked Nelson point-blank whether he would support the Democratic-written bill that passed on a procedural vote of 60-39 on Saturday night on a final vote as written. Nelson answered, "No."
Pressed later on his skeptical support for a government-run public-option component, Nelson said he was open to compromise.
"I mean, we could negotiate a public option of some sort that I might look at, but I don't want a big government, Washington-run operation that would undermine the private insurance that 200 million Americans now have," Nelson said.
Nelson is key to a handful of centrist Democrats who control healthcare in the Senate debate. The Nebraska senator was among a very few Democrats who withheld their voting intentions until the last few days and hours of Saturday's vote, which must now be followed by weeks of debate, House-Senate conference talks, and a final congressional vote probably in January.
Coburn, an Oklahoma obstetrician, fired back that Americans won't support the bill once they hear it.
"What we're going to do is read the bill to the American public," he said. "I think what you'll be seeing when we come back is us going through it section by section, explaining what it means. The important thing is for the American people to understand that this bill doesn't fix what's wrong with healthcare. We're treating symptoms, not the disease, and it's really malpractice what we're doing. The problem in America today with healthcare is it costs too much... And there's nothing to address that."
Pressed later on his Democratic vote for healthcare, Nelson clarified that he would not support a "Washington-run" system but would be open to compromise.
"If we can keep as much of it at the state level is as possible... you've got patient's bill of rights, you've got all kinds of mandated coverages, and this can be handled on a state-by-state basis. It gets lost in Washington in a big government-run plan, and I don't know what happens," Nelson said.