My government is on FIRE

Recent events put a smiley face on the Senate’s health “reform” bill. It’s a political face well known to me. It’s the wily, smiley face of Ben Nelson.

Sen. Ben Nelson is a registered Democrat from Nebraska, the state in which I lived for three decades. From the mid-70s on, I watched him as an observer/reporter/columnist.

Said senator and Nevada’s Harry Reid, he of Senate Majority Leader status and my more recently adopted state, struck an infamous deal of late. Nebraska got special status and Reid secured the 60th vote needed to move health “reform” legislation forward.

Who is Smiley Ben? I’ll tell you below, but first this: The sweetheart deal on Medicaid may wind up abandoned eventually as a firestorm of protest gains steam. But Nelson still will be credited with trying to help his constituents.

Given my conservative bent, you might figure I’d praise Nelson for helping thwart the public option idea and criticize his vote-trading. He (along with Republicans, like-minded Democrats and an Independent) squelched the public option and a short-lived alternative idea—Medicare expansion to people aged 55-65.

Rarely do I take surface events at face value. Consequently, I’m happy with the demise of the public option, but know the Senate bill in many ways is an industry boondoggle and that Nelson was just practicing business-as-usual to mask his real purpose.

Nelson is protecting insurers. The Senate legislation’s mandate that requires purchase of health insurance alone is an outrageously anti-freedom directive that will expand the industry’s customer base.

Despite Congressional Budget Office estimates, it also will erode government resources and is a muted victory for insurers despite some changes about which the industry complains. Minority Republicans were correct; this “reform” needs reform. But they opposed Democrats ineffectually.

Earl Benjamin Nelson, born in 1941 western Nebraska, is an attorney and former insurance company counsel and top insurance company executive. “Nelson made his name and money in the insurance industry,” states a Wikipedia biography.

In 1975, he was appointed head of Nebraska’s insurance regulatory agency. He later returned to the private sector until he won the governorship in 1990. He served two terms as governor and is in his second term as senator.

Nelson once served as chief of staff and executive vice president for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. And from 1985-90, he was with the Omaha law firm Kennedy, Holland, DeLacy & Svoboda, which morphed into Lamson, Dugan & Murray LLP.

Best’s Directory of Insurance Attorneys listed Lamson etc. as heavily involved in insurance matters, plus other types of practice and government relations. Some of the 33 insurance clients listed were Arch Reinsurance Co., Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Nebraska, AFLAC, Inc., and The Hartford Insurance Group.

Bottom line, Nelson may represent Nebraskans but also is steeped in the insurance industry. He’s part of a Congress that represents vested interests. I call it the Congress on FIRE—that’s short for Finance, Insurance and Real Estate.

After Christmas Eve passage of the Senate health bill, Congress now heads into 2010 with merger of the House and Senate versions of “reform” to come in January.

Opponents will fight on, but likely without success because Congress really represents those vested interests.

Odds that Nelson and enough of his colleagues in both parties would opt for true reform were stacked against consumers. Real reform would scrap the anti-trust exemption and, as I opined previously, promote competition so consumers could buy health insurance without continuation of oligopolies encouraged by state regulatory barriers.

Smile, wily Ben. You’re on semi-candid camera for your 15 minutes of infamy.