Since when has Nebraska become synonymous for cynical "what's in it for me"-type politics?

The term "Cornhusker kickback," is already a favorite of television's talking heads.

That's how the rest of the country sees the deal that was the price for Sen. Ben Nelson's support for the Democrats' health reform plan.

Under its provisions, the federal government would pay all additional Medicaid costs for Nebraska "in perpetuity." The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the deal may be worth $100 million over 10 years.

The deal is the embodiment of what is wrong with Washington.

Instead of thoughtful, careful work on real problems, Washington lawmakers cobble together special deals, dubious financial accounting and experimentation on a grandiose scale.

Nelson wasn't the first to make a special deal. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., secured the "Louisiana purchase" - as much as $300 million in additional federal funds for Medicaid. Florida, New York and Pennsylvania would be allowed to retain Medicare Advantage. The list goes on.

It's time to push the reset button on health reform.

The effort has gone awry. As pointed out by Sen. Mike Johanns, actuaries in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that costs of medical care in the country will actually be higher after reform than if nothing is done.

Promises that reform under the Senate bill will reduce the federal deficit are largely dependent on cuts to Medicaid that many observers think will be so politically unpopular that they will never happen.

There's little doubt that the nation's health care system has deep problems. Millions of Americans are unable to find affordable health insurance. Costs of medical care continue to outpace the overall rate of inflation.

The Senate plan and the House plan address some of these ills. Notably, however, they make little attempt to combat the root causes of rising health care costs.

As lawmakers in Washington spent months locked in partisan battle over health reform, the public has grown increasingly suspicious.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Dec. 16 showed that only 37 percent of respondents think that health care would be better after reform, compared with 50 percent who believe it will be better if nothing is done.

Nelson has pointed out that in coming days there will be other occasions on which Democrats will need 60 votes to muscle their plan through the Senate.

Nelson ought to use those opportunities to force Washington to start over on health care reform. Nebraska might have a sweeter deal than other states under the Senate plan, but Congress needs to do better for the overall good of the country.

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