Health Care Battle: Was Nebraska Bought?

Published January 15, 2010

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This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 14, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Is Nebraska for sale? Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson has been slammed by critics for the sweetheart deal he cut for his state. So what does the other senator from Nebraska think about this deal?

Nebraska senator Mike Johanns joins us live. Good evening, Senator. And Senator, your colleague got $300 million for your state. A lot of people aren't happy about that outside your state, and I suspect maybe a few inside your state. What's your thought?

SEN. MIKE JOHANNS, R - NEB.: You know, I opposed it. I went to the Senate floor and asked for unanimous consent that all the sweetheart deals be taken out of this health care bill. And I don't hesitate a bit in speaking for my state and saying this isn't Nebraska. Nebraskans have told me loud and clear they do not support this. We don't want special deals. We want to be treated fairly. But no special deals for any state.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you had a chance to talk to your colleague in the Senate, Senator Ben Nelson, and say to him, you know, What's up, Senator Nelson? The rest of the states -- or at least -- the rest of the country, many in the country, aren't wild about this deal. Looks like, you know, you're the hold-out, so you know, for a price tag, your vote was bought.

JOHANNS: We haven't talked since the vote was taken on the bill, that Christmas Eve vote, if you will. We've been both in recess, and he's been busy and I've been busy. But we've talked many times about the health care bill. And I very publicly expressed my disappointment in the legislation, and I've been very, very public about my disappointment in any sweetheart deal. I -- you know, it's disappointing to see. And you know, our state does not support it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was he bought?

JOHANNS: You know, Greta, I hate to use those kinds of terms. He made a decision. I made a decision.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what is it -- but I mean -- but I mean, it's, you know -- you know, it's, like, I know that everyone sort of dances around, but it almost looks a little bit like -- you know, like some might be covering up a little bit because no one likes to call someone else like, you know, something like a liar or a cheater or thief, whatever. I'm not suggesting those words about Senator Nelson. But I mean, was his vote purchased? Was it bought?

JOHANNS: You know, I'm just not going go there, Greta. Here's what I can tell you. I don't think that's the way to design good policy. I don't think that's the way to get to good legislation. This bill is not good policy. It is not a good piece of legislation. There are just dozens of problems with this bill. It's not what the country wants. It is not good for the country. There are so many things about this bill that are just wrong. I mean, it's the wrong direction for the country. And to focus on this deal -- because there's so many deals, and I think today, Greta, they struck yet another deal where if you're a union member, you get this special treatment, but if you're not a union member, you don't get special treatment. And you know, Americans just don't want that kind of policy- making.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we're going to talk in a moment, in the next segment, about this whole union deal, the transparency. But I think the thing that's so -- it's not so, I mean, much the bill for a lot of people, but it's the process. You talked about what was done behind closed doors with the union. But you know, that was sort of the whole rub about what was done with Nebraska.

Maybe it's a great idea. Maybe it's profoundly fair that Nebraska gets $300 million. But for the rest of us, it was done behind closed doors. We're not part of the process. There's no transparency. It wasn't on C-SPAN. He's the last hold-out, and he didn't seem to go along with it, and suddenly, $300 million is on the table, and suddenly, he says, Fine, you know, we'll take it. So the rest of us, you know, quite understandably, said, you know, What happened?

JOHANNS: Well, he's going to have to fight those battles. And you've seen the pushback that has come on that agreement, on that deal that was struck. I can tell you this. I don't support it and my state doesn't support it. The state has spoken very loud and clear to me in saying, We don't want any special deals, not for any state, including ours. And you know, it just creates the impression that there was wheeling and dealing and backroom deals and closed room deals.

One of the principles I set out in health care reform weeks, months ago, was that there would be no backroom deals. So it's an extremely disappointing situation to see that Nebraska got pulled into this. We don't want any part of it. We don't support the bill, but...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, this -- the senator said that if the state didn't want it, that he would let it slide, that he'd pull that. Do you think he's going to do that, to say that, you know, We don't want that $300 million? And do you think there's any likelihood that Senator Ben Nelson is going to vote no on health care, or have you no idea what he's going to do?

JOHANNS: I have no idea. He's been a consistent vote for the bill from the beginning, from the motion to proceed right on up to the Christmas Eve vote. So that's what I can tell you to date. I have no idea whether he will change his mind on this bill. But up to today, he's been a consistent vote in favor of the bill.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, as always. Thank you for appearing.

JOHANNS: Thank you, Greta.

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