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Former Sen. Nelson: GOP ‘Just Can’t Quite Pull it Together’ on Health Care

Says it’s ‘day of reckoning’ for seven years worth of promises to repeal Obamacare

Former Sen. Ben Nelson on where Republicans stand on health care reform: “I believe that you have to be very cautious on promises, and very consistent on keeping your promises when you make them.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Sen. Ben Nelson on where Republicans stand on health care reform: “I believe that you have to be very cautious on promises, and very consistent on keeping your promises when you make them.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska said he’s not surprised Republicans were having so much trouble passing a health care bill, saying Thursday it was the “day of reckoning” for seven years worth of promises that they would repeal the 2010 law.

“I believe that you have to be very cautious on promises,” he told the Omaha World-Herald, “and very consistent on keeping your promises when you make them.”

Nelson attributed much of the trouble with health care to national polarization, which he said intensified with the financial crisis, bank and auto industry bailouts, and the tea party movement against Democratic health care reform.

“They’ve got this huge wedge today splitting the country,” he said, decrying the decline of moderate centrists like himself in the Senate.

Because of this he said prospects of the GOP passing a health care reform bill were poor.

“Unless something major happens and there’s some change in position, I don’t see that they come up with something,” he said. They just can’t quite pull it together.”

Nelson was the final vote his fellow Democrats brought on board to invoke cloture and pass the 2010 health care law. For his vote, he got the so-called “Cornhusker kickback,” a reimbursement for Nebraska’s Medicaid expansion, as well as a provision allowing states to keep their health care exchange plans from covering abortion. 

Still, Nelson suffered an immediate hit to his popularity in Nebraska as a result of his vote, with many analysts attributing the fallout for his vote for his decision not to run for reelection.

In the interview, however, Nelson disputed that he would have lost reelection. He cited private polls from 2011 that showed him winning a third term.

“I know that rankles people who thought I was dead in the water, but that wasn’t the case,” he said.