WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week defended the now-defunct Nebraska Medicaid exemption that was tucked into the Senate health care bill as Reid sought the support of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
Nelson has said that he never asked for the exemption and that his goal all along was to provide relief for all states.
Tagged with the derisive moniker “Cornhusker kickback,” the arrangement quickly proved politically toxic. It later was eliminated through a piece of companion legislation and was replaced with additional Medicaid funding for all states.
During an interview that aired this week, Reid, D-Nev., was asked about the Nebraska Medicaid provision by Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren.
“The Nebraska deal was terrific for our country,” Reid told her. “Why do I say that? Because now everybody has the Nebraska deal. Every state in the union has the Nebraska deal.”
Asked why he didn’t offer the same deal to every state from the start, Reid said, “Because I didn’t have it for everybody at that time. I thought I could get it as we moved along in the legislation, and I did.”
Van Susteren said: “You’re telling me that when Ben Nelson got that, when the two of you sat down together, you said, ‘Ben, we’ll do it this way. ... Nebraska’s got it now, but after we get this passed we’re going to go for everybody?’”
“No, no, no. He got this for himself. He wanted it,” Reid said. “I said to myself, good. That’s a way I can help Medicaid in Nevada and the rest of the country, and that’s what I did.”
Reid also expressed surprise that Nelson did not do more boasting about the Nebraska exemption to his constituents.
“I said, ‘Ben, if I had gotten that for Nevada, I would have yelled it from the rooftops,’” Reid said. “He didn’t, and that’s a decision that he made.”
Asked about Reid’s comments, Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson reiterated that in mid-December Nelson shared with Reid concerns expressed by Gov. Dave Heineman about the Medicaid expansion’s effect on Nebraska’s budget. Nelson wanted to allow each state to decide whether it would participate in the Medicaid expansion, Thompson said.
“He did not ask for the Nebraska provision,” Thompson said. “He asked for an opt-in for all states.”
Thompson also said that Nelson’s vote was not dependent on the Medicaid issue and that he accepted the exemption for Nebraska with the intention of extending it to other states.
Asked to clarify Reid’s statements, spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle responded with an e-mail that included the following: “Sen. Nelson asked for an opt-in for the states, but (the Congressional Budget Office) was unable to offer a score, so the Nebraska provision was added to the bill. That enabled the issue to be addressed for all states in conference.”
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