In Nebraska, Nelson slams GOP governor for 'intimidating' educators over health reform

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) this week lashed out at Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman after the Republican lawmaker urged state educators to back a repeal of healthcare reform — or risk losing their jobs.

Heineman, Nelson said in a statement issued Monday, is using "misinformation to intimidate groups involved in all aspects of our children’s health, safety and education, pitting one against the other."

"What I’m hearing from Nebraskans is they don’t want this kind of divisive politics to be played," Nelson added. 

Last week, Heineman sent a letter to state education groups warning that the Medicaid expansion under the Democrats' healthcare reform law would steal vital funding from state education programs, thereby threatening education jobs.

"Increased funding for Medicaid is likely to result in less funding for education," Heineman wrote. "Don't sit on the sidelines. I strongly urge you to support the repeal of the recently enacted federal health care law."

Nelson fired back Monday, arguing that Heineman is using healthcare reform as a scapegoat for the state's budget woes.

“In the end, the governor really is trying to avoid his biggest problem: an estimated $750 million state budget shortfall," Nelson said. "He’s doing so with misinformation and with divisive politics, and Nebraskans do not expect that from the governor’s office."

Nelson also slammed Heineman for touting a recent report — commissioned by the governor and conducted by Milliman, Inc. — that found healthcare reform's Medicaid expansion would saddle Nebraska with new costs totaling between $526 million and $766 million over the next decade.

That report, Nelson charged, "is incomplete at best and intentionally misleading people at the worst."

Among the criticisms, Nelson said Milliman analysts assumed that everyone eligible for Medicaid under the expansion would enroll — an unrealistic projection because "Medicaid is voluntary and voluntary programs never see 100 percent participation," Nelson noted.

"He builds his campaign against health reform on misinformation."

It's hardly the first time Nelson and Heineman have butted heads. Late last year, in the midst of the contentious debate over healthcare reform, the Republican governor urged Nelson to oppose the bill on the grounds that the state couldn't afford the Medicaid expansion. Those concerns led Democratic leaders — who needed Nelson's vote to pass the bill — to include a provision exempting Nebraska from assuming any new costs related to the Medicaid expansion.

Heineman later went out of his way to distance himself from that provision, arguing that he "didn't want a special deal." 

"All we want," he said in January, "is to be treated fairly and equally."