Moderate Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska recently threatened to withhold support for the Senate healthcare bill. Nelson believes that the Senate bill does not do enough to keep participants in the insurance exchanges from using federal subsidies to pay for abortion services. After a day of negotiations, however, Nelson now supports the bill.
According to Politico, Nelson caved after winning federal subsidies to cover new participants in Medicaid. The Medicaid program is a federally based health plan for indigent people. The Senate bill would expand coverage in Medicaid. Typically both states and the federal government cover the costs of the program. But under the Nelson-abortion deal, the federal government will pay all of Nebraska's costs of new Medicaid recipients forever. Although "forever" is a tricky concept in the law (a subsequent Congress could probably negate the deal), this amounts to $45 million over the next ten years:
Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who claims that she opposes publicly run healthcare programs, received a similar deal earlier this year in exchange for her support. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid describe these deals as normal compromises to push legislation. I agree with this argument.
The White House, however, has described liberals who want certain things in the legislation as a condition of their support as "irrational" and "insane." By contrast, it has helped to secure hundreds of millions of dollars for conservative states that did not even go for Obama (or any other Democrat in recent history) in the presidential election. While the media is preparing to celebrate the passage of the legislation that it and the White House always preferred -- legislation devoid of a public plan -- the entire process will look corrupt to many people -- including some of the staunchest Democrats and progressives.