The Game Is Changing

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Something remarkable is going on in America.

I can’t quite explain it; I’m not sure anyone can. But we can use Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska to exemplify the change.


In order to “persuade”–some might say “payoff”–Nelson to vote for Senator Harry Reid’s health care reform bill, Reid agreed that the federal government would pay Nebraska’s portion of the increased Medicaid cost–forever.

Nelson can be forgiven for thinking his so-called “cornhusker kickback” would be hailed back home as a great achievement because, in the past, it would have been. Trying to maximize federal revenue is like a state hobby.

And Reid certainly thought Nebraska would approve. Why, he essentially called the other states a bunch of chumps for not getting their own kickback.

Nelson was so sure of himself that he dismissively told Nebraska’s governor, Republican Dave Heineman, who complained about the deal, that if the governor really didn’t want the money, Nelson would give it back.

Heineman called Nelson’s bluff and told him to do just that.

Well, that doesn’t happen much in American politics. Recall nearly a year ago when the federal government was trying to hand billions of dollars to the states and a handful of Republican governors pushed back, at least on some of the funds. They caught a lot of political flack for doing so.

But something even stranger happened this time. Rasmussen released a poll showing only 17 percent of Nebraskans supported the kickback; more than 80 percent opposed it. That is unheard of.

And recently, Politico reported that Nelson, who was a popular two-term governor, and his wife were in a pizza parlor when the other patrons started booing the couple. The situation got so bad they left.

Now Nelson’s asked that his Nebraska payoff be removed from the bill.

Politicians typically sleep easy at night secure in the knowledge that if someone is unhappy with them, they can use the public purse to buy them off–which is why Harry Reid must sleep like a baby.

But when the public stands up and refuses to be bought off, which is increasingly happening around the country, it’s clear the game is changing. And while no one quite understands the new rules, let’s be glad they’re here.

‘Today’s TaxByte was written by IPI resident scholar, Dr. Merrill Matthews.’