He has done two pieces of serious damage to his party and one piece of minor damage. First, by voting for the Senate health-care bill, he allowed the debate over Obamacare to drag into 2010. Democrats would have been better off with the bill dying in December than dying in January (or, for that matter, surviving and ultimately passing). Second, the Nebraska deal hurt the Democrats’ image — the Coakley campaign cited it in its list of reasons the national party was to blame for her defeat.
Third, the Nebraska deal now makes one of the Democrats’ possible strategies now — having the House pass the Senate bill while later (or simultaneously) “fixing it” in a reconciliation bill that needs only 50 Senate votes — more painful. I think this is the smallest problem Nelson has created since I don’t think this is a realistic option, but it is a problem. The reconciliation bill would have to do at least two things: give the unions their exemption from the Cadillac tax and give the Nebraska deal to other states. Under reconciliation rules, those “fixes” would have to be paid for. The resulting bill — raising taxes or cutting fees to fund a union payoff and a fix for Nelson’s deal — would not make for a helpful debate for Democrats, to put it mildly.