Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who played a pivotal role in helping the Senate pass its version of health care reform right before Christmas, said this week that the Obama administration should have delayed taking up the issue to spend more time tackling economic problems.
"I think it was a mistake to take health care on as opposed to continuing to spend the time on the economy," Nelson told the Fremont Tribune.
"I would have preferred not to be dealing with health care in the midst of everything else, and I think working on the economy would have been a wiser move," he told the newspaper.
Ever since Nelson provided Democrats with the crucial 60th vote to advance the Senate bill toward passage last month, he has been trying to explain his actions to his constituents -- a move that underscores the challenge Nelson faces in maintaining public support in a conservative state.
The deal Nelson cut with Senate Democratic leaders to gain his critical vote would exempt Nebraska from having to pay for the coverage of new enrollees into its Medicaid program and leave the tab with the federal government -- a move expected to cost Uncle Sam $100 million over the next 10 years.
Several attorneys general are threatening to challenge the constitutionality of that provision that they say benefits Nebraska at the expense of other states.
Meanwhile the president and congressional Democrats are conducting the final negotiations behind closed doors. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that lawmakers are "very close" to resolving differences between the House and Senate health care bills and sending a final version to Obama.