Published December 22, 2009
Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, after securing a sweetheart deal for his state as part of the health insurance reform bill, said Tuesday that three other senators have told him they want to bargain for the same kind of special treatment.
"Three senators came up to me just now on the (Senate) floor, and said, 'Now we understand what you did. We'll be seeking this funding too'," Nelson said.
But the Democratic senator, who has faced a heap of criticism for appearing to trade his vote on health care for millions in federal Medicaid money, said he's considering asking that the Nebraska deal be stripped from the bill.
Though he defended the exemption as a "fair deal," he said he never asked for the full federal funding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ended up granting his state. Nelson said he instead asked that states be allowed to refuse an expansion of Medicaid.
"This is the way Senate leadership chose to handle it. I never asked for 100 percent funding," he said.
Nelson has maintained that the only reason he even brought up Medicaid was that Nebraska Republican Gov. Dave Heineman put him up to it.
After Nelson sent a letter to the governor offering to kill the Medicaid deal, Heineman acknowledged that he and other governors had "expressed concern" about the state burden for Medicaid patients. But he rejected any suggestion from Nelson that he asked for the kind of deal Reid struck.
"Under no circumstances did I have anything to do with Senator Nelson's compromise," the governor said in a written statement. "The responsibility for this special deal lies solely on the shoulders of Senator Ben Nelson."
He urged Nelson to reconsider his support for the overall health care bill and, in response to the Sunday letter, said his state expects "a fair deal, not a special deal."
"Governors all across America are troubled by this unfunded Medicaid mandate. If the U.S. Senate plans to address the unfunded mandates issue, all states must receive fair and equal treatment," he wrote.
Nelson said Tuesday he wants to talk to the governor before making a decision on the Medicaid provision.
Nelson would not name the three senators he said told him they're thinking of seeking the same kind of federal aid. He said he expected them to seek the money outside the health care reform process, and he defended their efforts.
"Why should states be forced to pay for a (federal) unfunded mandate?" he said.
Republican senators agree and have blasted Nelson for the apparent payoff.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has asked his state's attorney general to give the deal a legal review, and said it's not fair to other states that are still going to have to pick up part of the Medicaid tab.
"I think that's just incredibly inappropriate. ... That is the worst in politics," he told Fox News on Tuesday. "I don't believe most senators believe this is OK. ... I think it stinks. I think it's sleazy."
Fox News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.