Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was concerned over what the Senate version would cost his state, so the legislation was amended to have the federal government pick up Nebraska's Medicaid tab.
Of course, that's where the simple math ends. Were the Senate's actions during the Christmas week negotiations legal? Were they constitutional?
Or were they another example of the sort of horse-trading that goes on in Washington and turns legislation into law?
Those questions may be answered if a group of Republican state attorneys general can determine a way to challenge the Senate vote in court. Alabama's Troy King is one of the outraged attorneys general. Gov. Bob Riley also has jumped in, asking King to expand the investigation into other D.C. deals that might have been cut to get votes on the health-care bill.
If you cannot block health-care reform in Congress, block it in the courts.
However, in pointing out the obvious inequity of having taxpayers from other states cover for Nebraska, Riley may be getting his state into an area it would be better off avoiding.
Alabama — just like other states — has had to deal with unfunded mandates from Washington, and it continues to negotiate with the federal government over the fairness in the way the state's Medicaid program is funded.
Nevertheless, the Tax Foundation reported in 2005, the last year these figures were available, that for every $1 Alabama sent to Washington, the state received $1.66 in return. So, let's not start debating who is paying for whose services.
If Alabama politicians start getting outraged about having to subsidize Nebraska, some states will surely ask if they should be subsidizing programs in Alabama — and other states — as well.
Instead, let's stick to the law.
Is what the Democratic-controlled Senate did illegal? Does it violate the Constitution? If so, should other similar deals be investigated? What it took to get the Medicare drug bill passed comes to mind. Then, King and his cohorts can begin looking into deals cut and votes "bought" in other areas: agricultural subsidies, military contracts, road projects — the list goes on and on.
This is a slippery slope; who can say where it will end? On the surface, this appears to be one of the more obvious cases of a senator using his vote to work out a deal to benefit his state. But if all of these deals are investigated, the most remarkable thing the nation might discover is a senator or congressman who hasn't done the same.
That would be remarkable, indeed.