With laser-like focus on spending cuts, Sen. Ben Nelson on Tuesday appeared to rule out the possibility he will support proposed extension of payroll tax cuts.
"I wish I could," he said following a noon speech to the Downtown Rotary Club in Lincoln.
"But all you're doing is taking money that otherwise would help Medicare and Social Security."
The slice in payroll deductions that fuel Social Security funding was enacted in December in hopes of stimulating the economy by moving that money into consumer spending. President Barack Obama is expected to recommend an extension of that tax cut for working families beyond the end of this year.
The best way to stimulate the economy, Nelson said, is to build economic certainty and predictability through federal spending cuts.
That will spur investment and create jobs, he said.
On a separate issue, Nelson said he'd support legislation that would alter the current debt reduction plan to prevent deep cuts in military spending if Congress fails to reach agreement on the second stage of budget reductions later this year.
Military spending was sliced by $400 billion over 10 years in first-stage spending cuts. Failure to reach agreement on a second stage of debt reduction would trigger an additional $600 billion in defense cuts automatically.
"Automatic cuts would hollow out the military," Nelson said. "That would be a bigger mistake" than failure to reach congressional agreement, he said.
Nelson is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Earlier, Nelson told the Rotarians he was not optimistic the special congressional committee formed to propose second-stage debt reduction would be successful.
The economic uncertainty created by "political games, partisan agendas (and) perpetual debate" has hindered job growth and economic recovery, he said.
And, he said, the spectacle created by political agendas that "pushed (the country) to the edge of default" led to the downgrade of the country's credit rating and turmoil in the stock market.
The first question Nelson encountered from the audience was whether the country can deal with the costs of the new health care reform law, which the questioner identified as "Obamacare."
"It's not just what you've been told about it," Nelson said. "The scare tactics that say we can't afford it simply are not true."
And, he said, it is not "a government-run plan" despite what its opponents say.
A government or public option provision was stripped from the bill, Nelson said. And, he said, opponents never take into account the $57 billion in annual savings that can occur when health insurance premiums no longer reflect the costs of uncompensated care.
Nelson pointed to new benefits already in effect for seniors, children with pre-existing health conditions and young adults who can be covered by family policies until they are 26. Other benefits phase in by 2014, he said.
"Doing nothing hardly seems like a solution," Nelson said, when health care costs were soaring and an increasing number of Americans either were denied, or could not afford, health care insurance.