April 7, 2010

Harry Reid defends the deal made with Sen. Ben Nelson for the so called "Cornhusker Kickback" that the media and especially Fox has been happy to pile on about as proof of the entire process of negotiating the health care bill has being nothing but dirty back room deals and Democratic corruption. During this interview Greta Van Susteren hammers Reid about why the deal wasn't offered to all of the states right off the bat.

Harry Reid shoots back at her for Fox loving to "berate anything that is Democratic in nature" and he's right, especially in this instance. Dave Dayden at FDL wrote this post back in January about what's been wrong with the media narrative on the Nelson deal:

Why The Cornhusker Kickback Raised So Much Attention:

Karen Tumulty picks up on a general awareness out in Massachusetts of Ben Nelson’s Nebraska Medicaid deal, which was used as a symbol for the tainted process of the health care reform debate. [...]

Based on my own conversations, that seems accurate, and also completely insane. Ben Nelson’s Medicaid deal is about the least offensive thing he’s ever done in the United States Senate. He got poor people in his state a good deal for health care, and ensured that enough state governors would vocalize their frustrations about it that this Medicaid expansion would essentially be federalized, which is really good policy. No liberal validators tried to contextualize that element of the deal. [...]

The reason that conservatives seized on the Nelson deal was because it applied to a narrow sliver of easily demonized poor people in a red state. A lot of powerful people in right-wing media saw the opportunity to use the kickback to define the legislation as giving benefits to “other” people. It turns out that the bill pays for the “other,” with the other defined as pharmaceutical company profits, for example, in a multitude of different ways, but only the Nebraska deal fits with a right-wing critique of government as helping the hated poor who should be able to help themselves. That’s why it lodged in the minds of conservatives who heard about it endlessly on Fox News and AM talk radio.

As Dave also wrote before anyone knew how the negotiations were going to go back in January, Ben Nelson’s Medicaid Deal About To Get Much Better Or Much Worse:

It’s clear that the so-called “Cornhusker Kickback,” Ben Nelson’s deal to have the federal government pick up the cost for the expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska, will not survive to the final bill. What form the kickback will eventually take is not clear, and according to Live Pulse, Nelson is in negotiations to move it in one of two directions, which are truly diametrically opposed from one another. [...]

Expanding the deal to all states would essentially federalize the Medicaid program at a certain income level. To maintain quality across the nation and streamline the program, it should ALL be federalized, but this would be a step in the right direction. [...]

Incidentally, I want to reiterate what I said yesterday about this deal, and how telling it is that it’s practically the only piece of pork that Republicans have decided to criticize. [...]

More than “telling,” it’s actually expected – anything that helps poor people is “outrageous spending,” while the run-of-the-mill corruption and huge public subsidies from corporate welfare are hardly ever criticized. It’s stunning not only that Republicans are getting away with this, but that liberals are actively helping them.

As Dave noted in both posts, there are plenty of other things to be upset about with the way this bill was negotiated and who it benefits. Why the Democrats didn't do a better job on this Nelson deal and their messaging is beyond me. Harry Reid attempts to do that here but it's a bit late now. The damage is done and even though the Nelson deal went the right way and ended up being applied to all states, the media is going to use this nonsense as an example of Democratic corruption. One which harms poor people if the Republicans would attempt to roll it back later. Reid at least is standing by the decision and explaining it now. He needs to be doing this somewhere besides ClusterFox. Their viewers are going to hear nothing but "Cornhusker Kickback" being used as a talking point for the next year or two with no context ever given to it.

Transcript below the fold via Nexis Lexis.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened I think is you met with Senator Ben Nelson and gave the Nebraska deal. In Massachusetts, they were absolutely furious about the Nebraska deal. I think that sunk her.

REID: Perhaps. But remember, the Nebraska deal was terrific for our country. Why do I say that? Because now everybody has a Nebraska deal. Every state in the union has the Nebraska deal.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think a lot of people feel like do you, senator, on that. I think a lot of people were disturbed about the fact on the eve of the vote that two United States senators meet, and President Obama had promised transparency.

And so all of a sudden, Senator Ben Nelson walks out and says "I'm going to vote on this." It wasn't your promise on transparency. I'm going to vote on this and I got a special deal from my state. The other states are saying what about us?

REID: Did you think it would have been better if I let the bill fail?

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't --

REID: You're speechless.

VAN SUSTEREN: Speechless? This is the way it appeared to the American people. This senator, Senator Ben Nelson, was for sale. That's the way it looked like. It was a sale that all the other American taxpayers are paying for. And nobody understood, even people in Nebraska didn't understand why he got this?

REID: Greta, let me say this. I know FOX loves to berate anything that is Democratic in nature. But let me just say this. Ben Nelson is an honorable, a really good senator that represents his state extremely well.

And Ben Nelson and I worked on a number of issues. We worked on the Medicaid issue. He's a former governor of the state and understands it very well. I knew if I got this for Nebraska I would have it for everybody, and that's what happened. And I'm totally comfortable with that

VAN SUSTEREN: Two things. No one ever said that after he walked out. There was a long time before we heard about everybody else getting this. That's the first thing.

The second thing -- I was actually quite surprised that Senator Nelson didn't come out say to his constituents, what are you complaining about, I got you something that no one else got.

REID: I was a little surprised about that myself.

VAN SUSTEREN: The fact that he came out so weak with his hat in his hand made me more suspicious why he wasn't -- I would have thought, I would have expected a different advocacy for it than the one he gave. I thought that added to sort of like, what's up?

REID: I said, "Ben, if I had gotten that for Nevada, I would have yelled from it the rooftops." He didn't and that's a decision he made.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you thought everybody was going to get that day when you Senator Nelson, why didn't you offer it to everybody?

REID: Because I didn't have it for everybody at that time. I thought I could get it as we moved along in the legislation, and I did.

VAN SUSTEREN: You're telling me when Ben Nelson got that, when the two of you sat down, you said Ben, Nebraska's got it now -- obviously my words -- but after we get this passed we go for everybody?

REID: No. He got this for himself. He wanted it. I said to myself, good. That's a way I can help Medicaid in Nevada and the rest of the country, and that's what I did. But I didn't trumpet it to my other senators. By the time we finished this with our meetings in the White House and other places, everybody got it.

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