Political humorist P.J. O'Rourke wrote a book about Congress entitled "Parliament of Whores." As one of U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson's constituents, I think his actions regarding the so-called health care reform bill make O'Rourke's title an insult to prostitutes everywhere.
Nelson initially told us that he could not support the Senate version of the bill if it authorized federal tax dollars to fund abortion. Nelson has long claimed to be pro-life. Indeed, he signed into law a ban on partial birth abortion toward the end of his tenure as governor. But he also made some very bad appointments while governor, including naming a pro-abortion woman as his lieutenant governor. I remember confronting him about it during an interview I did with him for an article I was writing. He was defensive about the appointment, and told me that if I asked her I would find that she was not as "pro-abortion as you think she is."
When I talked to the lieutenant governor, I found her to be a clueless liberal who thought abortion was illegal after the first trimester. "With all due respect," I said, "what do you think the whole debate over partial birth abortion is all about?" Her response shocked me. "I never thought about it," she said blankly. And Ben Nelson had appointed this woman to be our lieutenant governor. After that, I never trusted Nelson's judgment again.
Few of us who know him believe his denial of reports that the Chicago gangsters running the White House threatened him with the closing of Offutt Air Force Base, the headquarters of the Strategic Command — located in Bellevue, Nebraska, and a crucial part of our national defense — if he didn't play ball on health care.
When Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman pointed out that the bill would put additional Medicaid costs on the states — all states — Nelson's response was to cut a deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid to exempt Nebraska from ever paying any additional Medicaid costs associated with the passage of this bureaucratic monstrosity. Then, adding insult to outrage, Nelson's office started calling his backroom deal "the Heineman exemption," as though the forthright governor, not the compromised senator, was somehow the initiator of this sleazy agreement.
"I'll be happy to remove this language if the governor asks me to," Nelson announced smugly. One could almost hear the collective wretch of Nebraskans as we watched our own senator capitulating to the desires of the president — all the while blaming our governor, who was selflessly trying to do the right thing. It was a disgusting spectacle to witness.
Governor Heineman, to his credit, is not backing down. In a letter to Nelson's office, he wrote:
"Regarding the unfunded Medicaid mandate, Nebraskans expect a fair deal, not a special deal. If the U.S. Senate plans to address the unfunded mandates issue, all states must receive fair and equal treatment. Neither Nevada, Vermont, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Nebraska, nor any other state should receive a special Medicaid deal that is not available to other states. It is imperative that every state is treated fairly and equally or all special deals must be removed.
"However, the bottom line remains this bill is bad news for Nebraska and bad news for America. The effects on our State and the Nation will be disastrous, and Nebraskans are asking you to stop this bill in its tracks. Nebraska's businesses, as expressed by the State Chamber, are worried about middle class tax increases and the loss of jobs. Nebraska's seniors are outraged about Medicare cuts. Nebraska's pro-life community is furious with your compromise. Nebraska families are concerned about future increased premiums.
"Senator Nelson, Nebraskans are strongly opposed to this bill. As Governor, I urge you to reconsider your position and vote 'No' on the next cloture vote."
The rest, as they say, is history. In the end, Nelson jettisoned his pro-life principles, the concerns of Nebraska businesses, and the values of those who put him in office, in favor of a bucket of pork Nebraskans don't even want. He chose to represent the interests and desires of Barack Obama and Harry Reid rather than those of his constituents, and if his next election were held today, almost anyone could beat him. But his next election isn't for another three years, and it will be hard trying to keep the white-hot anger of the voters alive until then. For now, though, Ben Nelson has accomplished what no one in recent memory has done (except maybe our former football coach, Bill Callahan). He has made us feel ashamed to be Nebraskans.