COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's dealmaking lost a key seat in Massachusetts but eventually led to the right strategy to win the vote on landmark healthcare legislation, U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said Monday.
Clyburn said the election of Republican Scott Brown to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat was a turning point in passing the overhaul last week. He said at the time, the Senate was pursuing a 60-vote strategy for the legislation to get around filibuster threats by Republicans.
To get there, Reid made several deals with lawmakers, including giving up the public option on insurance and giving $100 million in extra Medicaid money solely to Nebraska to help win support from that state's Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. Dubbed the Cornhusker Kickback, it was eliminated in the revisions bill, but had caused a stir over such backroom deals that the Republicans pointed out.
"So he got 60 votes. Well, the problem is the Nebraska thing, more than anything else, caused the defeat up in Massachusetts," Clyburn said.
That forced Democrats to rely on their majority numbers, he said.
"That's how we got health care. I don't think we would have ever gotten health care if we stayed on that 60-vote strategy," Clyburn said. "I really believe that that was a blessing in disguise," Clyburn said at his Columbia office.
The House's version had broader support and "the American people did not turn against this bill or health care until they saw the sausage-making taking place and all these deals being cut."
Politicians often say no one likes to see how major bills get passed, comparing it to "sausage-making."
He said after the public saw the deals, opinion on the bill turned.
"That's when we lost up in Massachusetts; that's when we had to give up the 60-vote strategy; that's when we turned the corner on health care when we gave that strategy up," and decided to use a simple majority.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said he strongly disagreed with Clyburn's assertion that deal making cost Senate Democrats the Massachusetts race.
Reid worked on the bill in consultation with the White House and under Senate rules that make filibusters tough to head off, Manley said. House leaders cut deals to get votes and so did the Senate, he noted.
Still, "we passed a bill that the House ended up passing," Manley said. And that was followed by a measure both sides passed to change the Senate bill.
Clyburn also questioned the motivation behind those who spat at lawmakers and hurled racial epithets at black lawmakers heading to vote on the legislation.
Spitting on someone is "the lowest form of degradation in our society. What's that got to do with health care? What's the N-word got to do with health care? What's the nooses that were faxed into this office with the N-word misspelled ... what's that got to do with health care?" Clyburn said. "It's got nothing to do with health care. It's got to do with the first African-American president of the United States."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.