Senate links: Ben Nelson (D-NE-Senate)i
E. Benjamin “Ben” Nelson
Ben Nelson, plans to retire at end of current term.
Biography of Ben Nelson from Senate.gov
With a reputation for problem solving and a voting record to support his common sense approach, Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson has carved out a bipartisan role in an often partisan Washington environment. Senator Nelson is a pragmatist who doesn’t let political labels or agendas stand in the way of doing what’s responsible and fair.
Working with Republicans and Democrats, Nelson forged agreements between the Bush Administration and the Senate on tax cuts, Medicare reform, and homeland security. During the Obama Administration, Senator Nelson co-founded a bipartisan “Jobs Squad” of senators that cut $108 billion in spending from an economic recovery plan that ultimately became law. Senator Nelson’s efforts focused the bill on job creation and tax relief to turn around the nation’s troubled economy.
This sensible approach is rooted in how Nelson was raised in McCook (pop. 8,000), in Red Willow County. This southwest Nebraska town has been home to two U.S. Senators and three Governors. Perhaps Nelson’s future was written in the stars, for at age 17 he won his first election, as governor in a mock legislature, sparking a life-long interest in public service.
As a young man at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Nelson spent his Sundays serving as a lay minister to rural Nebraska congregations. Foreshadowing his future in public service, Nelson chose law school over the ministry. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1963, a master’s degree in 1965 and a law degree from the University of Nebraska in 1970.
Following his time as a student, Nelson enjoyed a successful career in insurance law. He served as CEO of the Central National Insurance Group, as chief of staff and executive vice president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and as director of the Nebraska Department of Insurance.
In 1990, Ben Nelson entered Nebraska politics by running Governor and defeated the incumbent by 4,000 votes. As Governor, Nelson pledged to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas to move forward as “One Nebraska” and to create a “more efficient and effective state government.”
In 1994, Nelson was the first Nebraska Governor to be elected to a second term in two decades. He was re-elected with 74% of the vote and the largest margin of victory for a Nebraska Governor in half a century.
Near the end of his tenure, the Omaha World-Herald wrote, “After nearly eight years in office, Gov. Ben Nelson has worn well with Nebraskans … the governor’s modest style and conservative fiscal politics connected with voters on a statewide level.”
In 2000, Nelson ran to represent the people of Nebraska in the U.S. Senate. Nelson, a conservative Democrat, carried the day even as Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush easily won Nebraska, illustrating that Nelson’s connection to the people goes well beyond party labels or partisan politics. After his first term in the Senate, Nelson was re-elected with 64% on the vote in 2006.
As a former two-term governor, Nelson remains a firm believer in states’ rights. He has a firsthand understanding of the burden a federal mandate can put on state budgets. Because of this, Nelson supported full federal funding for education for children with disabilities, fought against forcing states to expand Medicaid without additional federal funding, and opposed the No Child Left Behind Act because its requirements duplicated Nebraska’s existing standards and were not fully funded.
Nelson’s record of balancing Nebraska’s budget as governor is an asset as he works to reduce federal spending in a way that is effective and fair. He led the state to eight straight balanced budgets and record balances in Nebraska’s General Fund. Nelson cut state income taxes, cut state sales taxes, and helped local governments offer property tax relief while protecting Nebraska’s investments in education, agriculture, health care, and economic development.
An advocate for fiscal responsibility, Nelson strongly believes federal spending must be brought under control. He insists that budget cuts be based on shared sacrifice, not politics.
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, Nelson successfully won a 5 percent cut in spending across the board on Capitol Hill in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.
Nelson’s rural roots have always been the basis for his policy positions. As Governor, Nelson was an early and forceful advocate for expanding the ethanol industry in Nebraska and growing the market for ethanol across the country. Shortly after assuming office, Nelson founded the Governor’s Ethanol Coalition with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to promote the increased use of ethanol and decrease America’s dependence on foreign energy sources.
Under Nelson’s leadership, Nebraska moved to the forefront of ethanol production, increasing production from 15 million gallons in 1990 to more than 300 million gallons by the time he left office in 1999. Due to this growth, more than 4,300 Nebraskans are now employed directly or indirectly in ethanol production.
In the Senate, one of the first bills Nelson co-sponsored worked to boost production of ethanol and other renewable fuels. With Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, Nelson currently serves as National Co-Chair of Ethanol Across America, a grassroots organization designed to increase ethanol awareness and production.
Serving on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Nelson’s priorities began with the drought that has plagued the United States for the last eight years. As Governor, Nelson helped establish the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska and has tirelessly pushed Congress to provide comprehensive emergency disaster assistance for agricultural producers. As Senator, he has worked to make disaster relief a part of the budget, so producers don’t have to turn repeatedly to emergency measures to get help.
Nelson’s work on the 2008 Farm bill brought together his fiscal conservatism and his commitment to American farmers. Nelson authored legislation to ensure farm payments go to farmers and ranchers, rather than people who don’t farm. He also worked to cap crop insurance payments in order to level the playing field for small farmers while cutting subsidy spending for all American taxpayers.
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Nelson strives to ensure that our armed services and military personnel have the modern equipment, training and resources they need to protect their safety and succeed in their missions. He uses his position on the committee to advocate for Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue and U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), a unified command center headquartered at Offutt which provides global security for U.S. national security interests including space, cyberspace, global strike and deterrence, and combating weapons of mass destruction.
As Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Nelson works closely with STRATCOM officials to ensure the Command is successful in its mission. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over strategic forces, nuclear weapons, national defense and nuclear deterrence, space programs, and ballistic missile defense.
Nelson’s commitment to strengthening our military goes beyond active duty personnel, and he is committed to keeping America’s promise to our veterans. As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee from 2001 through 2004, he pushed to preserve access to health care for Nebraska veterans and to expand the Veterans Administration’s use of clinics to provide quality care. He is now working with the Veterans Administration to replace the aging VA Hospital in Omaha so that it can better meet the needs of our growing population of veterans.
Ben Nelson and his wife, Diane, continue to live in Omaha. They have four children, Kevin, Sarah, Christie, and Patrick, as well as five grandchildren. Nelson commutes home nearly every weekend to be with his family and with the people of Nebraska.
Nelson enjoys spending time with his family, reading, hunting, fishing, and the whole of outdoor life. An avid hunter, Nelson has won both the domestic Grand Slam and international World Slam for wild turkeys and has hunted on safari in Africa.
Ben Nelson’s Senate Committee Assignments
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry
- Subcommittee on Commodities, Markets, Trade & Risk Management (Chairman)
- Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth & Energy Innovation
- Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing & Agriculture Security
Committee on Armed Services
- Subcommittee on Strategic Forces (Chairman)
- Subcommittee on Airland
- Subcommittee on Readiness & Management Support
Committee on Appropriations
- Subcommittee on Legislative Branch (Chairman)
- Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration & Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs & Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Interior, Environment & Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Financial Services & General Government