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Ben Nelson Still Hedging on Health Reform

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Ben Nelson Still Hedging on Health Reform"

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Looks like health reform’s not out of the woods yet:

Monday night’s meeting was unusually long for the Senate, and it featured numerous speeches. One passionate endorsement of the bill came from Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who switched parties earlier this year. Specter urged his Democratic colleagues, “Don’t let those obstructionists win,” one participant recalled.

The room erupted in applause when Specter reminded the group, “I came to this caucus to be your 60th vote.” But soon after the speech, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) left the session early, telling reporters he remained undecided.

I know a lot of people out there on the Internet seem to feel that the White House could have saved the public option if only they’d put more “pressure” on Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, etc. or done some more “arm-twisting” as seen in colorful LBJ anecdotes. Do people think the administration forgot to use its magic pressure button to get Senator Nelson to endorse the deal? Or is it possible that a minority of legislators are relatively immune to pressure and blandishment from the White House?

Compare Nelson’s behavior to Arlen Specter’s remarks. Specter is from a state that went for Democratic presidential candidates in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. To stay viable, he’d drifted toward the center, which rendered him unviable as a Republican. So he became a Democrat. But his Democratic credentials are suspect, and there’s a credible primary challenger in the field. Specter is very vulnerable to pressure from the White House. Lieberman [EDIT: by which I mean Nelson] is in almost the reverse situation. Objective political reality matters.

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