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Graham: 'Sleazy politics' driving health care votes

S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday that officials should look at deal-making that sealed a final compromise on federal health care legislation.

"Is it appropriate for the federal government to do a special deal for one state to get that senator's vote and every other state will incur financial liability?" Graham asked Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.

"I'm not so sure that's constitutional. I know it doesn't pass the smell test and I know it's sleazy politics. But I think you've got a real legal problem with that."

On Sunday, Graham complained about a deal with Sen. Ben Nelson in an appearance on CNN's "State of the Nation." He said the health care bill advanced with the help of "seedy Chicago politics" and "back-room deals that amount to bribes" as Democrats locked up the 60 votes needed to head off a Republican filibuster of the mammoth bill.

Nelson held out until he was promised his state would never have to put more money into its Medicaid program to cover mandated expansions that already worry other states. That deal was valued at $45 million a year.

Nebraska Democrats cheered Nelson for using his leverage to win perks back home. But Republican Nebraska Gov. Dave Heinemann said his state didn't need a special deal.

Other states came out ahead, too, with Vermont, Louisiana and Massachusetts picking up additional Medicaid funds and hospitals in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana landing more Medicare funds. Hawaii's hospitals also got more to treat the uninsured.

Graham thinks Nelson's deal will help sink the bill when it heads back to the House as legislators in states with larger Medicaid populations are hard-pressed to head home empty-handed.

"I don't think they can sell that it's fair and good politics - change that we can believe in - to buy a senator off by exempting his state from Medicaid matching funds when every other state will be hit hard," Graham said.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., will have a role in pushing the legislation through the House as compromises are reached in a conference committee and doesn't see irreconcilable differences.

"This is the legislative process, and that is why we have a conference," Clyburn said. "I am always pleased when the Senate adds things we don't have; it gives us the opportunity to meet them halfway."

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