Sen. Ben Nelson: Committing 'Political Suicide' Over Health Care?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 18, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Political suicide. To pass the health care bill, the Democrats need Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, but would a yes vote be political suicide for Senator Nelson, ending his career? Well, according to a new poll from a Republican polling group, a whopping 61 percent of Nebraska voters say they would be less likely to vote for Nelson if he votes for the bill. Only 26 percent say they would be more likely.

Joining us live is Dick Morris, author of the book "Catastrophe." Dick even before we get to the issue of Senator Ben Nelson, I don't know about you, but for some reason, you know, this is a horrible snowstorm, we're consumed with it here on the East Coast -- to bring a 92-year-old man in a wheelchair to vote at 7:30 tomorrow morning, to me -- and he was up -- he was voting at 1:30 in the morning last night -- and I realize he wants to do that. But for something that's not a national emergency, you know, it seems like a bit much. They can wait on this for him or...

DICK MORRIS, AUTHOR, "CATASTROPHE": Well, I don't really agree. If he wants to be senator, he wants the job, then he's got to perform it. But could I go back to what you were discussing...

VAN SUSTEREN: On a Saturday in a snowstorm? But go ahead.

MORRIS: Could I go back to what you were discussing with Kay Bailey Hutchison about the Medicare cuts, where you said Bill Nelson from Florida says it doesn't cut Medicare and Lindsey Graham says that it does. Here's the facts. It does not cut -- it does not raise premiums. It does not increase deductibles. It doesn't cut benefits in the sense that Gingrich's proposals in '95 did.

What it does, though, is something worse. It sets up a medical review board which looks at all 7,500 diagnoses that are possible of sick people and specifies the protocols of care to be followed in each case. So it'll say, for example, No, you may not have the best drug to treat colon cancer. And I know that'll increase the death rate, but it costs too much. No, if you only have three more years of quality-adjusted life remaining, you can't have a hip replacement. And I know that puts you in a wheelchair and maybe you die sooner.

In other words, it's basically a board that rations care. And the reason they say it's not a cut is that it basically tells the doctor what to do. He'll still treat you for the disease. He'll still treat you for the disease, he'll still see you, but he will not be able to give you the best medical care. And that's why I believe it's far worse than a mere increase in deductibles or in premiums.

And your question, which was a great one, the Democrats want bigger government, Republicans less, what's the deal here? Republicans are sort of saying, Leave it to the doctor and the patient to make the decision. Don't let the government make that decision for them. So it squares with their philosophy. But it is odd to see the Democrats telling this board, somehow or other, you squeeze half a billion -- half a trillion out of this system by rationing.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, all right. Let's turn to Senator Ben Nelson. And this is the most interesting thing because it all hinges on him tonight, at least it seems that way. And one of the key provisions that he's interested in is whether there's going to be any federal funding -- funding at all of abortions.

MORRIS: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: And if he gets -- if he gets the language in there, locked in there so that there's absolutely no federal funding at all, and that he -- so that they secure his vote -- and they handle the economic issues that he might have because he has some cost issues as a former governor -- then you've got many women in this country, many of the pro- choice women, many of the pro-choice members of certainly the House side, who are going to have a very difficult time voting for this bill at all. So sort this out. Where does it -- you know, explain it to me.

MORRIS: Well, that's the point. Nelson could, on the one hand, vote against this bill, which would kill the bill entirely. That's what the people in Nebraska want him to do. Or he could cave in and vote for it, which is what Obama wants. On the other hand, what he may do is demand so many concessions in the bill, that he votes for it, it passes the Senate, but then it can't pass the House.

I had a conversation with a leading Democratic strategist two weeks ago, and he said to me, As soon as the Senate votes on this bill, the House will pass it five minutes later. It'll be at the president's desk 10 minutes later, and it will become law. The House will simply accede to whatever changes the Senate made.

But two days ago, Nancy Pelosi said, No, that's not what's going to happen. We're going to have to go to conference. We're going to have to negotiate. And there may be a situation where whatever bill Nancy Pelosi can pass in the House, Harry Reid can't get 60 votes for in the Senate.

And there's a real -- and that is one of the key roles that Nelson can play. Now, right now, there are huge numbers of ads running on television every five minutes in Nebraska urging Nelson to stand firm and oppose this bill. If you go to Dickmorris.com, you can find out how to help do that. But that is creating enormous pressure on him to keep his seat.

On the other hand, the Democrats in Washington are saying, Hey, friend, if you vote against this bill, we're drumming you out of the party, where you're not going to get anything. You'll never get a bill passed for the rest of your life. And that's a tough situation for Nelson to be in.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think -- why do you think he was elected? Was he elected to exercise his judgment as to what is the best thing to do, or was he elected simply to carry out what the voters want? I mean, if the voters of 61 percent or whatever is in Nebraska, then it's clear. His conscience may send him in a different direction. What's his job?

MORRIS: I think it depends on the issue, Greta. If we're talking about a question of foreign aid or we're talking about an issue related to economic policy, where perhaps the voters are not as sophisticated or as informed as he might be or his advisers might be, he might say, I'm going to exercise my better judgment. But when you're dealing with something as intimate as somebody's health care and as fundamental a change in this, when your constituents by 3 to 1 are saying, For God's sakes, don't do this, you ought to listen.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, the thing that is -- the other big question is speed. Could they wait until January? And we only have 30 seconds left. But why not wait until January?

MORRIS: Of course they can wait until January, and of course, this is a ridiculous thing. It is absurd that they spend months debating some arcane rule in the FCC, but they're going to spend 48 hours debating a bill that totally changes the health care system of the United States? There's something in between a filibuster and a debate. And it's OK to say, We're not going to debate this for 10 months, but there's something to be bringing to the American people on live television the arguments pro and con.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, I've got to go. Thank you very much.

MORRIS: Thank you.

 

 

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