Who's Really to Blame for Ben Nelson's Medicaid Buy-Off

So, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is, understandably, aggravated that Democrats bribed Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to vote for health-care reform by giving his state, and only his state, full federal funding for Medicaid expansion, while other states have to pay their fare share. Graham told CNN:

But the Medicaid deal, for Senator Nelson—there's one state in the union where new enrollees for Medicaid will be signed up, and it won't cost anybody in that state money. It's not my state. I've got 30 percent African-American population, a lot of low-income African-Americans on Medicaid.

The representation of Medicaid as some kind of program for African-Americans, is a curious choice. Matthew Yglesias dings Graham for that, and points out that since the Nebraska pork won't take effect until 2016 there is plenty of time to tinker with it. Besides, the flip side of Nebraska being a barely populated state that gets to hold up the rest of the country for special subsidies is that it's a very small amount of money at stake.

But, interestingly for such an ardent proponent of procedural reform, Yglesias neglects to point out the hypocrisy underlying Graham's complaint. Why, exactly, is it the case that Democrats needed to bribe Nelson to support health-care reform? Because, despite their commanding majority in the Senate, thanks to consecutive decisive victories in 2006 and 2008, the Democrats needed every single member of their supermajority on board for health-care reform. Why is it that, say, 58 Democratic senators could not carry out the job they were elected to perform by the American people, and pass health-care reform without indefensible policy concessions to win over egotists like Nelson and Joe Lieberman?

Well, it's because every Republican in the Senate, including Lindsay Graham, is proceeding from the staunchly antidemocratic presumption that the extraconstitutional filibuster should be used to preemptively prevent votes on any bill that enjoys majority, but not supermajority, support. If Graham, or any of his colleagues, chose to behave like a legislator elected to govern, rather than a political operative seeking advantage in the 2010 midterms, he could register his objections to health-care reform, vote for cloture, and vote against the bill itself. That's what senators used to do. So Graham can criticize Ben Nelson for demanding a bribe from his party, but he can't legitimately criticize Democrats for appeasing Nelson─ especially since it's Graham's fault that they have to do so.

Who's Really to Blame for Ben Nelson's Medicaid Buy-Off | News