Ben Nelson says state shares budget duty

2010-04-14T14:04:00Z Ben Nelson says state shares budget dutyBy DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
April 14, 2010 2:04 pm  • 

The federal government could more readily balance its budget if states did not "rely on federal funds to balance theirs," Sen. Ben Nelson said Wednesday.

Nelson took note of the "balanced federalism" resolution approved Tuesday by the Nebraska Legislature amid calls for a balanced federal budget.

Nelson said he too supports a balanced budget, but finds some calls disingenuous when "much of the spending in Washington is (due) to pressure by states" that use federal funds to balance their own budgets.

Hundreds of millions of federal dollars appropriated to stimulate the economy by creating jobs were used to balance Nebraska's current state budget, Nelson said.

What is needed is "substantial reduction in spending at all levels of government," he said.

"I hope the Legislature will focus on that."

Nelson's pointed comments came at the conclusion of his weekly telephone conference call from Washington.

Answering a series of questions about health care reform, Nelson said he believes many Nebraskans are beginning to understand how the legislation will help them and their families.

"The more information that gets out, the more support that is developing," Nelson said upon his return to Washington following the Easter congressional recess.

"This is an opportunity to try to reduce the growth of the cost of health care," he said.

Otherwise, continuing spiraling costs "could price almost everybody out of the insurance market," Nelson said, and lead to more medical bankruptcies.

Already, 220,000 Nebraskans do not have health care insurance, he said.

The cost of uncompensated care for those without insurance is "passed on to everyone else," he said, and represents about 15 percent of the cost of insurance premiums.

A day earlier, Nelson sat down for an extensive interview with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren to answer questions about the disputed Medicaid funding provision for Nebraska that prompted a barrage of national criticism directed at the Democratic senator.

Nelson said he didn't ask for the $100 million that was inserted in the original Senate bill for Nebraska and said its inclusion was not required to win his 60th climactic vote clearing the way for Senate passage.

"What I wanted to do was make certain that ultimately all states would get the same thing" in terms of either an ability to opt out of an expanded Medicaid program or acquisition of federal funds to pay for the additional cost, Nelson said.

"There was no quid pro quo, no effort at all to buy my vote," Nelson said.

"Without it, would you have voted for the bill?" Van Susteren asked.

"Yes, yes, I would have," Nelson said.

The requirements for his vote were "no public option, no government-run insurance operation," Nelson said, and no federal funding of elective abortions.

"Those were the two conditions for my support," he said.

Reach Don Walton at 473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

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