Arkansas senator says agreement in health care bill benefiting Nebraska should be removed

By Andrew Demillo, AP
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Arkansas senator rips Nebraska health care deal

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln said a political deal that benefits Nebraska and may have clinched a lawmaker’s support for health care legislation should be removed from the bill.

The Democratic senator from Arkansas on Tuesday said she was disappointed about a provision in the Senate’s health care bill that will require the federal government to permanently pay the entire cost of Medicaid expansion in Nebraska, while only paying the costs of expansion in the other 49 states for three years.

Conservative Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson lent his crucial support to the bill only after winning the provision for his constituents.

“The people of Arkansas didn’t send me to Washington to be a horse trader,” Lincoln told reporters before speaking at a Kiwanis Club luncheon in downtown Little Rock.

Lincoln did not say whether she would support a final version of the health care legislation if it included the Nebraska agreement. Lincoln, who voted for the health care legislation on Christmas Eve, faces a tough re-election battle this year and has faced criticism from Republicans over her support for the bill.

“We’ll see what happens, whether it comes out or not. I think it’s appropriate that it should,” Lincoln said.

Republican attorneys general in 13 states have threatened a lawsuit if congressional leaders don’t remove the deal from the legislation.

Nelson’s office said Tuesday that the provision was added after he had expressed concerns to Senate leaders about a “large unfunded federal mandate” that would affect all states.

“It’s been cast as a special deal for Nebraska. It isn’t, and it won’t be,” Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson said. “Sen. Nelson is hopeful the issue will be addressed in the conference committee negotiations to treat all states the same.”

Both houses have already passed legislation to remake the health care system, extending coverage to millions who lack it while cracking down on industry practices such as denying insurance on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.

There are many differences between the two bills, including provisions on illegal immigration and abortion, a dispute over a government-run insurance option — the House wants one, but the Senate bill omitted it — and the size and extent of federal subsidies to help lower-income families afford coverage.

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