Political Animal


May 17, 2011 4:40 PM Ben Nelson adopts GOP line on taxes

By Steve Benen

Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, like congressional Republicans, prioritizes deficit reduction above economic growth. More importantly, as of this afternoon, Nelson, like Republicans, is also unwilling to accept a deficit-reduction plan that raises any tax on anyone by any amount at any time.

Sen. Ben Nelson said Tuesday that he will not support tax increases in any budget proposal — a stance that could make Senate Democrats’ chances for reaching agreement on the issue even more difficult.

The Nebraska Democrat, who is up for re-election next year, told reporters, “I’m only focused on cuts, not on raising taxes. If we start getting our attention over to raising taxes, I can assure you that many of my colleagues are going to be less interested in cuts.”

Nelson’s position puts him in line with most Republicans who have said they will not entertain any tax hikes — including those on the rich or on corporations — as part of any budget deal. Republicans and Democrats have been attempting to negotiate a budget deal in order to assure passage of a controversial increase in the debt limit.

He went on to say policymakers looking for a balanced approach — some tax increases, some spending cuts — may “get distracted away.”

I haven’t the foggiest idea what that means, but then again, Nelson has never been accused of being the sharpest senator in the chamber.

In an electoral context, Nelson is running for re-election in a very conservative state, and likely sees this as a way of impressing voters back home. I’m not an expert in Nebraska politics, but it seems to me his Republican opponent is going to accuse him of being a tax-and-spend liberal anyway — whether it’s true or not is irrelevant — and giving voters a choice between a Republican and a Republican-lite in a “red” state is generally not a good idea.

Besides, it’s tough to present one’s self as fiscally responsible while acting in such a fiscally irresponsible way.

But in more practical terms, there are ongoing negotiations between party leaders, and Dems are eager to strike a deal with Republicans that includes at least some additional government revenue to help lower the deficit. Finding the votes for such a compromise will be next to impossible, and by adopting a far-right line, Nelson has made the process that much more difficult.

Americans want a balanced approach, but Nelson doesn’t care. He has some conservatives to pander to, which matters more, apparently, than anything else.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • June on May 17, 2011 4:41 PM:

    Re: Ben Nelson - in other words, the sky remains blue.

  • howard on May 17, 2011 4:43 PM:

    over and over again, one sees tough-guy commenters saying that if only harry reid were tougher, we wouldn't have this kind of problem.

    and over and over, the likes of nelson and the other blue dogs open their mouths, demonstrate their ignorance, and confirm that there is nothing in harry reid's (or for that matter, barack obama's) power to do to make them better, smarter, wiser people or senators (much less democrats).

    more substantially, it is amazing to me that the actual real-world outcome of the 1993 tax hike and the institution of paygo never seems to cross nelson's mind.

  • JW on May 17, 2011 4:49 PM:

    Higher taxes, on the appropriate groups stimulate the economy. It's been demonstrated time and again.

  • DK on May 17, 2011 4:50 PM:

    Ben Nelson - what a tool!

  • Danp on May 17, 2011 4:51 PM:

    Nelson has never been accused of being the sharpest senator in the chamber.

    The wording in this sentence detracts from the fact that he's among the dumbest.

  • zeitgeist on May 17, 2011 4:51 PM:

    i can only assume that deep down Nelson is really a Republican. because at this point in his career, there is no reason to try and think strategically, or shade your position for politics.

    Nelson is done. gone. kaput. They may as well swear Bruning in tomorrow. Nelson's moves to the right meant nothing -- he can't out-Republican the Republicans; it just lost any support he has on the left. In short, no one can trust him, no one likes him, and all the money in his war chest can't save him.

    The only question is how much damage he does to the nation, the party, his reputation, and his soul between now and his involuntary retirement party.

  • meady on May 17, 2011 5:08 PM:

    How much money and effort will be used for his reelection campaign by the DNC? I am curious about the contents of his war chest and where the big donations are from.

  • Kiweagle on May 17, 2011 5:23 PM:

    So all those Blue Dog Dems that thought pandering to conservatives would help them win the election got thrown out of office in 2010, and Sen. Ben Nelson thinks this is STILL a winning strategy.

    For the love of God, will someone please primary him out of existence. Having a majority of the Senate may allow Reid to control the agenda, but fair-weather friends like Nelson it just turns the vote count into a joke.

  • John B. on May 17, 2011 5:29 PM:

    The odd thing is a candid, plain speaking liberal could win in a landslide in Nebraska. More than conservative or liberal what a great majority of Nebraskans prize most of all is authenticity and strong convictions. Nelson communicates neither.

    There is no meaningful reason why Nelson calls himself a Democrat other than he wasn't able to get the Republican nomination when he wanted it. He's worse than worthless to the Democratic Party and Nebraskans know he has no solid convictions about anything except he wants to hold high office. Good riddance to him.

  • Danny on May 17, 2011 5:37 PM:

    It's perfectly ok to have Nelson defect if:

    1) We don't need his vote to have a majority.
    2) He won't filibuster.
    3) He'll keep away from the limelight, the media circuit and the negotiating table.

    The senate is stacked to favor conservative states, we cannot expect 100% party loyalty, but we should demand 100% message loyalty. When Nelson runs only his vote matters, whether he was out trash talking tax increases doesnt. So he should shut up and keep out of sight.

  • zeitgeist on May 17, 2011 5:38 PM:

    John B, I agree - the best Dem for Nebraska would likely be a plain-spoken populist Jim Hightower type. Essentially the polar opposite of the Senator from Mutual of Omaha.

  • kindness on May 17, 2011 5:41 PM:

    Nelson will lose to what ever Republican the people of Nebraska put up and just like ex Senator Blanche Lincoln I will be happy they are no longer Senators who call themselves Democrats.

    Is that biting off my nose to spite my face? Maybe. But I don't see Nelson (or Lincoln) as Democrats to be gin with. They are simply whores who make Democrats look bad.

  • Dennis on May 17, 2011 5:53 PM:

    I'm writing this post as a friend and supporter of Senator Nelson. I don't always agree with Senator Nelson but you're not going to get a better Democratic Senator from Nebraska than Nelson. Since Obama has been President, Nelson has voted for the following: the 2009 stimulus bill; the Sotomayor nomination; the Ledbetter Act; the Health Care Reform bill and the Wall St. reform bill. You wouldn't have gotten those votes out of the ultra-conservatives that ran against Nelson in 2000 and 2006. Nelson has already made it clear that his opposition to the Ryan Medicare privatization plan will be the centerpiece of his 2012 campaign. Bruning has come out in support of this plan and I can tell you as life long Nebraskan, that Ryan Medicare plan will be a tough sell even in a red state like Nebraska. The Husker state has one of the highest percentages of seniors of any state in the country. Don't count Senator Nelson out. Moreover, he has been a trusted friend and Senator for Nebraska over the last eleven years.

  • Dennis on May 17, 2011 5:57 PM:

    One more point. Senator Nelson voted in favor of the repeal of don't ask, don't tell last year.

  • DAY on May 17, 2011 6:41 PM:

    Senators- hell, politicians!- of both parties carry a card in their pocket, to remind them of Who They Are:

    "I like my job, and I will do and say whatever it takes to keep it!"

  • thebewilderness on May 17, 2011 7:18 PM:

    It is a simple historically demonstrated fact that economic growth will reduce the deficit while reducing the deficit will not stimulate economic growth.
    Any congresscritter who does not admit this is a liar and a cheat and a thief.

  • Captain Obvious on May 17, 2011 7:31 PM:

    �I�m only focused on cuts, not on raising taxes. If we start getting our attention over to raising taxes, I can assure you that many of my colleagues are going to be less interested in cuts.�

    And which 'colleagues' would these be? The ones you've so obviously joined on the Right? Those aren't 'colleagues', ya douchebag, those are political opponents. Christ, the stupid is so overwhelming, it HURTS.

  • Captain Obvious on May 17, 2011 7:41 PM:

    Oh, and DENNIS, 'friend and supporter' of Nelson... you sound exactly like a Bush apologist. Go soak your head in a porcelain edifice.

  • Danny on May 17, 2011 10:48 PM:


    Thanks for the reminder Dennis. That is a lot of good legislation, that most republicans have voted against! I think a lot of progressives in their heart knows that a democrat running in a red state can't deliver on everything we would want. What we need to find a better way to do is allowing some defection at times with minimal damage to what democrats want to get done - in terms of policy and in terms of messaging. The best thing for Ben to do is to keep as low a profile as possible when he has to break ranks. No pitching of conservative philosophy to the networks if possible. Those that are in the boat need to have a unified message and those outside should not be heard.

  • LRM on May 18, 2011 9:23 AM:

    No surprise with Nelson. He's one of the two or three Democrats who have signed Grover Norquist's tax pledge. We can't have sanity while an ideologue like Norquist effectively controls our tax policy.

  • Concernaboutnow on May 19, 2011 8:33 AM:

    It could be worst. Nelson at least keeps us in the majority for now. IT COULD BE WORST.

  • bgrantland on November 04, 2011 10:58 AM:

    How would you have voted Thursday if you were not up for reelection?