It wasn't just Nelson's little goody, it was also the deal for unions on excise
More generally, it's the problem with small-bore
incremental liberalism, as opposed to programs that are now universal like
Social Security and Medicare. Without universality, it's always easy to make it
seem like someone else (someone less deserving, of course) is getting the
goodies making good programs unpopular.
I actually don't disagree with Atrios on the mishandling of the politics of health reform but I take exception to the examples that he cites. First, Social Security was a small bore incremental program when it was adopted, it was amended over the decades to the more universal program we see now. Furthermore, Medicare is the very definition of small bore incrementalism - even now it only covers those 65 and older (coincidentally signed into law as part of the 1965 Social Security Act). Medicare and Medicaid were created as compromise, incremental approaches because LBJ couldn't get a national healthcare plan passed.
You can be upset with the Democrats bungling the politics and process. You can even oppose the final bill on grounds that it is not comprehensive enough. What you cannot do though is point to Social Security and Medicare as anything but examples of small bore incrementalism.