Sen. Nelson: Obama Health Care Speech Positive

The Two-Way Blog

Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska, says President Obama's decision to outline the health care plan is a step in the right direction. He says, however, that he is still uncommitted because he hasn't seen the bill yet. He says any measure must not add to the deficit and must improve health care quality.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

While preparations for swine flu speed forward, there's a harder slog in the political realm over health care. After President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress, he's trying to convince senators from his own party to support his plan.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Ben Nelson of Nebraska is one of the Democratic senators the president invited to the White House yesterday. He's described himself as uncommitted on health care. And he spoke to us today from Omaha, Nebraska. Senator Nelson, based on what you heard in the president's speech or at the White House yesterday afternoon for that matter, are you any more likely now to support the president on health care?

Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): Well, I think that the president has begun to lay out the details of a plan and that's a major step in the right direction. In addition, we have now the Finance Committee putting out at least the sketches of a plan that they'll take up next week. The reason I haven't committed is twofold. One is I haven't seen all the details. And so, consequently, I'm not going to be for anything until I've seen everything.

The second reason is that how we handle this is going to be extremely important so that it doesn't add one cent to the deficit, that it will, in fact, reduce the growing cost of health care. And the final thing is, whatever we do has to truly improve the quality of health care.

SIEGEL: But do I hear in what you've said about the president's speech and in the imminent release of the Senate Finance Committee bill that you see some motion toward something that you could support before the end of the year?

Sen. NELSON: Well, I think it's getting clear, and I'm not looking to oppose. I just want to make sure that whatever is adopted and acted in the law gets it right. For example, I know there are an awful lot of people - and the president noted that - that think that a public option is absolutely essential. I think he made it clear he doesn't think it's absolutely essential, although he still prefers the presence of a public option.

SIEGEL: Well, do you think the absence of a public option from a bill is absolutely essential for you to support a health care bill?

Sen. NELSON: Well, I don't - I said it this way that I think it's better if we don't have a public option because I think the market will, in fact, respond to the extension of coverage. But I've also said, if it's necessary, and the rest of the bill is okay to have a public option, then it can be a backup public option with a trigger that would be comparable to what's being done with the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

SIEGEL: So, the idea that Senator Snowe, Olympia Snowe of Maine, has proposed of the kind of fall back public option…

Sen. NELSON: Yes, the fall back public option…

SIEGEL: You're attracted to that idea. That…

Sen. NELSON: Well, I'm not - I wouldn't refuse to support a bill with that in it if everything else was right. I think that's the point I'm trying to make.

SIEGEL: When you spoke of the extension of coverage, do you mean by that that you support, in principle, the idea of mandates and that individuals and employers be required to purchase health insurance?

Sen. NELSON: Well, I think it's important that it'd be compulsory. I don't particularly like the idea of calling it a mandate. We have compulsory auto liability coverage in America today in virtually every state.

SIEGEL: But is there any more than a semantic distinction between something that's compulsory and something that's mandated?

Sen. NELSON: Well, let's put it this way - we already have a word that outlines exactly what it is and why it exists. Why do we invent new words? To me, understanding that this is essentially an insurance issue, is important to get away from the idea that there's too much government involvement in it. We already have that kind of government involvement in mandating compulsory auto insurance. Why don't we talk about it the same way so that people understand, oh, it's just about like that. Then you get away from all the discussions and the arguments about whether it's too much government or not.

SIEGEL: Senator Nelson, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

Sen. NELSON: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska.

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