Ben Nelson Twists In The Wind

[ Posted Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 – 17:48 UTC ]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held a second vote today on whether to begin debate on the Wall Street reform bill put forth by Senator Chris Dodd. As expected, all the Republicans voted against openly debating the bill once again. Also as expected, all the Democrats voted to move forward. Except one.

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted against opening the debate for the second day in a row. He was the only Democrat to do so, unless you count the technicality of Reid himself voting against the bill (which is necessary to bring the bill back up for another vote, which is now scheduled for tomorrow). But Nelson didn't vote against the bill because Senate rules forced him to (as with Reid), Nelson voted against the bill because he wants the bill changed before debate even begins.

You may remember Senator Nelson from the health reform debate. He was the guy who infamously held out his vote in exchange for Nebraska getting a sweetheart deal. Republicans immediately jumped on this backroom deal, and dubbed it the "Cornhusker Kickback." It was eventually removed from the final law, due to Democrats admitting that it was a mistake to give in to Nelson in the first place.

Now he's back again, and fighting for "Cornhusker Kickback II" or perhaps "Son of Cornhusker Kickback." Only, this time, Democrats are not exactly capitulating to his demands. Instead, they're leaving him hanging, to twist in the wind.

This is actually a good thing. Because the main narrative from Reid and the Democrats right now is that what is being voted on is not the bill itself, or any particular piece of the bill, or any amendment to the bill -- but rather whether to even start the public debate. Which leaves both Nelson and the Republicans on the side of supporting secret backroom deals, instead of a Senate floor debate where everyone can offer amendments in public, and then try to garner support from their fellow senators. Because you can't have it both ways. The Republicans keep talking about "a deal," as in "we're pretty close to a deal on the language in the bill." What this means is: "we'd like to stand up for some very embarrassing things, and we'd really prefer to do it in the backrooms, where the public hopefully won't notice what we're doing." To put it simply, Democrats are for debating the bill -- and any amendments anyone might offer to it -- in public, on the Senate floor. Republicans are trying to block this to get a special deal in a backroom. So far, Democrats are refusing to deal. "If you want changes made," Democrats say, "then make them in public, not in secret deals."

Ben Nelson is also trying to get a special backroom deal. Now, on the original Cornhusker Kickback, Nelson could actually make a fairly cogent argument for what he was doing. Senators are sent to Washington to fight for their state's interests, after all, and Nelson just fought better for his state than other Democrats did. What he was fighting for would have benefited all Nebraskans, because the federal government would be picking up the tab for something other states had to pay for -- forever. This sort of deal-making is actually quite common, or at least was quite common before the whole thing blew up in Nelson's face. But at least Nelson was actually fighting for Nebraskans as a whole, and even though the deal was viciously attacked by Republicans and lost in the end, he was really just fighting for his state's interests, in a way.

This time around, though, Nelson is fighting for only one Nebraskan in particular -- Warren Buffett. Or, perhaps two, if you count corporate citizens (Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's company). At a stretch, Nelson might be able to make the case that he's fighting for some other Nebraskans' "jobs" who work there; but that's pretty thin gruel, politically.

Put another way, Nelson is exemplifying the concept of big money controlling politicians. The richest person in Nebraska demands a change to a bill, and Nelson provides it, and votes with Republicans until he gets his way. It's pretty clear cut, in other words.

What's different this time around is that Nelson's fellow Democrats are not interested in cutting a second Cornhusker Kickback deal. They got burned by the first one, it proved to be a gigantic embarrassment for them, and they are showing no interest in going down that path again. In fact, Nelson is already experiencing some political pushback, and will likely receive more if a single Republican breaks ranks and votes with the Democrats to open the debate (which would put the Democrats at 59 votes -- meaning Nelson's vote would then be critical).

The reason Nelson is trying to get this change made to the bill in such a fashion is that he knows he likely could not get it passed as an amendment to the Dodd bill, in a public Senate vote. It's the same reason Republicans are scared of an honest floor debate -- because they know that the changes they are fighting for are going to be wildly unpopular with the public, and with their fellow senators. Hence all the pressure on Dodd and Reid to cut backroom deals, before the debate even begins.

But Ben Nelson really needs to rethink his tactic of voting with Republicans. Because he is the lone Democrat to have done so, he's going to get a lot of attention. And when voters realize that he is holding out not for some lofty principle, but for increased corporate profits for a single company from his state, they're going to be outraged. Even the original Cornhusker Kickback (which didn't exactly smell like a bouquet of roses) was more defensible than what Nelson's attempting now.

The longer Nelson holds out (Harry Reid seems happy to have one of these votes every single day) the more people are going to notice what he's doing. And, because it is already public knowledge what he's holding out for, Democrats simply are not going to cut a special deal to get his vote this time around -- because they already know the political price for doing so, from the last time Nelson pulled this stunt. The dealmaking, in other words, would be blatant and obvious. But, for now, Nelson seems to be content, hanging from a limb other Democrats won't crawl out on, and twisting in the wind. We'll see if he changes his mind when that wind grows to a hurricane-force blast of negative public opinion.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Ben Nelson Twists In The Wind”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    No comments yet?

    Michale? Where are you? Here's a prime example of Democrats excoriating one of their own, thought it'd be pure catnip for you...


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    It probably WOULD have been if Nelson hadn't been the Xmas Eve hero of CrapCare, as hailed by these same Democrats who are now "excoriating"....

    "Cruel.. But good word usage."
    -Jeff Goldblum, JURASSIC PARK II

    ... one of their own.

    In other words, same ol same ol hypocrisy that both political parties indulge in...

    On another note, there still seem to be some number issues here..

    This commentary should 9 comments, but there was only one.. I added a comment to the REPUBLICANS BLUFF commentary but the number was added to THIS commentary.

    Just a heads up....

    On another note, is there a section we can comment on the mechanics of the site, let you know when problems crop up, etc etc etc?? I hate to bore everyone with technical IT/ADMIN type problems.

    I would MUCH rather bore people with my hyperbole.. :D hehehehehehehehe


  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    I left the Program Note I just posted open for comments, just for you. I know there's a bug with the way comments are counted on the main page (the little number in the parenthesis) and the way they're counted here (on the "article" page). The problem is, on the main page it is also counting "pingbacks" and "trackbacks" which the site automatically gets whenever someone else's blog or site cites this one (say that three times fast). But since they aren't real comments, I filtered them out in the numbers used here. I tried to filter them out on the main page, but it didn't work, so I still have to fix this, sorry about that.

    See comments elsewhere RE: Nelson. I believe I wrote this before I saw an article which pointed out he and his wife own over $6 million in Berkshire Hathaway stock. Sheesh.

    But seriously, dude, here I am, handing you a big stick, and pointing helpfully at a Democrat here, who deserves to be whacked with it, so have at him!

    See, we're not partisan here, we rip on anyone who doesn't measure up!


    I have to admit, I believe you were the one who first pointed out the label "Cornhusker Kickback" to me here in the comments (back in January, no doubt). I DO take notice of erring Democrats, and invite you to bring them to my attention, as I do indeed listen, and sometimes agree with you.


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    But seriously, dude, here I am, handing you a big stick, and pointing helpfully at a Democrat here, who deserves to be whacked with it, so have at him!

    "We need no urging to hate humans. But for now!? Only a fool fights in a burning house!!"
    -Kang, STAR TREK, Day Of The Dove

    I know, I know...

    I am a little slow on the uptake on this one.. :D

    Nelson's claim to shame is NOT attempting to extort more concessions from the Wall Street legislation via SON OF CORN HUSKER...

    His claim to shame is for having done it the FIRST time and thereby saving CrapCare from it's ignoble, yet rightful, fate...


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