Massachusetts voters sent a message that needs to be heeded by both political parties, Sen. Ben Nelson said Wednesday.
People are frustrated with the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, which has led to a dysfunctional government that's "not working together for them," Nelson said.
Democrats need to make "a renewed effort to work across the political aisle," Nelson said, but Republicans also have "a responsibility to engage."
Tuesday's election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate eliminates the so-called cloture-proof majority of 60 Democratic votes, but it does not end the need for health care reform, Nelson said.
Lack of coverage for 220,000 Nebraskans and rising costs that are likely to double in the next seven or eight years if nothing is done "does not suggest we should just give up," he said.
Seventy percent of Nebraskans in a recent poll said there is a need for some kind of health care reform, Nelson said.
Nelson, the Democratic senator who provided the 60th climactic vote that cleared the path for Senate enactment of health care legislation, assessed the Massachusetts election results during a conference call from Washington.
People want an end to "partisan gamesmanship," Nelson said.
"There's enough blame for both parties," he said.
Democrats need to reach out, he said, but "I don't know if the other side is willing to play and work for a solution."
It's not enough to "sit on the sideline and cheer for the president to fail," Nelson said.
"If the other side chooses to just say no to everything, nothing can get done."
Nelson said Senate and House leaders will decide how to proceed, but he does not believe there should be "a rush to take action because someone is leaving the Senate."
Brown will succeed Democratic Sen. Paul Kirk, who was appointed on an interim basis after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Bipartisan cooperation will be needed, Nelson said, not only to "fix the health care system," but also to create jobs, address other economic concerns and enact energy policy that leads toward U.S. energy independence.
Nelson said he doesn't believe the Massachusetts results reflect "a complete rejection of the health care effort."
Massachusetts already has enacted its own form of universal health care coverage at the state level, he pointed out.
Nelson took note of the fact his job approval rating slipped to 42 percent in a recent Omaha World-Herald poll centering on health care reform.
"I chose not to sit on the sidelines," he said. "If you're on the field, you're going to get hit."
But, he said, those poll results will have no effect on whether he chooses to seek re-election in 2012.
That decision will be made "in due course," he said.
Massachusetts voters also were upset by "things being done behind closed doors (with) a lack of transparency," Nelson said.
"I'm perfectly prepared to negotiate or legislate out in the open with cameras on," he said.
If his negotiations on federal funding for Medicaid expansion had been public, Nelson said, people would have seen he was seeking relief from a new unfunded federal mandate for all states, not a special deal for Nebraska.
On Tuesday, a campaign consultant for defeated Massachusetts Democratic Senate nominee Martha Coakley leaked a memo to Politico suggesting "Ben Nelson's deal for Nebraska" was a factor in sending her December polling numbers into freefall.
Nelson's negotiated language restricting federal funding of abortions also "hurt Coakley," the adviser's memo stated.
Reach Don Walton at 473-7248 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.