How did Nelson gain such leverage in the legislative process in the first place? Because many assumed that his objections to abortion coverage in the health bill were serious -- not a cover, but a conviction. Nelson, a rare pro-life Democrat, insisted in an interview he would not be a "cheap date." Republican leadership staffers in the Senate thought he might insist on language in the health care bill preventing public funds from going to insurance plans that cover abortion on demand, as Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak had done in the House.
Instead, Nelson caved. The "compromise" he accepted allows states to prohibit the coverage of elective abortions in their own insurance exchanges. Which means that Nebraska taxpayers may not be forced to subsidize insurance plans that cover abortions in Nebraska. But they will certainly be required to subsidize such plans in California, New York and many other states.
In the end, Nelson not only surrendered his own beliefs, he betrayed the principle of the Hyde Amendment, which since 1976 has prevented the coverage of elective abortion in federally funded insurance. Nelson not only violated his own pro-life convictions, he may force millions of Americans to violate theirs as well.
I can respect those who are pro-life out of conviction, and those who are pro-choice out of conviction. It is more difficult to respect politicians willing to use their deepest beliefs -- and the deepest beliefs of others -- as bargaining chips.
In a single evening, Nelson managed to undermine the logic of Medicaid, abandon three decades of protections under the Hyde Amendment and increase the public stock of cynicism. For what? For the sake of legislation that greatly expands a health entitlement without reforming the health system; that siphons hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare, instead of using that money to reform Medicare itself; that imposes seven taxes on Americans making less than $250,000 a year, in direct violation of a presidential pledge; that employs Enron-style accounting methods to inflate future cost savings; that pretends to tame the insurance companies while making insurance companies the largest beneficiaries of reform.
And, yes, for $100 million. It is the cheap date equivalent of Taco Bell.