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Falling On The Sword For Obamacare

  

There are believers whose faith cannot be shaken.  So it is with President Obama and the Democrats.  Coming so soon after the Massachusetts' Rebellion, the President has not been reading the political tea leaves.  Or, perhaps, he doesn't care.  If anything could have raised eyebrows among Democrats hell bent on jamming a massive health care bill through, surely it would have been the loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown, a man who specifically ran against Obamacare.  But for those who worship at the altar of entitlement and big government there is no looking back - only lurching forward, however desperately.

So how does a chastened Barack Obama respond to the recent electoral embarrassment of Massachusetts?  By scaling back on the size and scope of the 2500 page Senate health care bill passed Christmas Eve without a single Republican vote?   By incorporating GOP ideas to create a truly "bipartisan" plan?  By scrapping the project altogether and focusing instead on what matters most to Americans, namely jobs and the economy? 

Hell no.  He shoulders on and offers the same ghastly plan with cosmetic changes; pretends this represents some sort of "fresh" start; holds a health care summit with Republicans to show "bipartisanship"; ignores every suggestion put forth by the other side; and then tries to pass a Democrat health care bill regardless of political repercussions, the will of the electorate, or the Constitution. 

Even if it means Democrats falling on the sword. 

But to die for the cause, to watch one's political career implode in the face of a defiant citizenry at odds with its political masters, all for the sake of nationalized health care, is a noble death indeed.  A virtuous and honorable sacrifice for the "greater" good.  Such is the way for our "progressive" evangelists.

They are, indeed, believers.  Alternative views, legitimate opposition, reasonable criticism mean nothing.  They are on a crusade.   Or, perhaps, we can say a Jihad. 

In late February, only days before the televised "Health Summit," Obama presented a $950 billion (over a decade) "revised" health care overhaul based on the original Senate Xmas eve bill that not a single Republican voted for.  In it were included plans for more spending, subsidies, and a new assortment of taxes.  

So right before the "bipartisan" summit, where Obama and the Democrats were going to "listen" to Republican ideas, right after the drubbing in Massachusetts, and with falling poll numbers and nervous Democrats everywhere, we find Obama not trimming his plans but doubling down.  And hurling down the gauntlet for good measure.  Why else offer up the same rehashed plan before a summit that is ostensibly for the purpose of ferreting out the best ideas from both sides?

Specifically, the plan would increase the penalty for employers (with 50 or more employees) who fail to provide insurance from $750 to $2000 per employee, increase the individual mandate from 2% to 2.5% of income on individuals who do not purchase insurance, and create a new federal panel that will prevent insurers from raising rates.  It would provide subsidies for for those earning 400% of the poverty line or $96,000 for a family of four and would expand the Medicare payroll tax of 2.9% for joint income of $250,000 (or singles earning more than $200,000) to include (for the first time) income from interest, dividends, royalties, rents, and annuities.  This would be added to the Senate's .9% increase in the payroll tax, bringing the combined employee-employer levy to 3.8%.   Among many other things.

There really are no limits to the ambitions and imagination of the progressive mind. 

And what they are willing to do with your money.

Republicans in advance of the "health summit," pounced on it as the same boondoggle under another guise.  "Putting a new name under a whole lot more spending is not reform," Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnel of Kentucky chided.  He further pointed out that in launching this latest version of Obamacare, the administration had obviously decided to pass health care reform without Republican ideas.  

What also illuminates is the mind numbing effort by Obama and Democrats to convince the nation of the fiction that covering an additional 31 million Americans with health insurance will somehow not blow another massive hole in an already sinking financial ship of state.  We must all appear very gullible to our elected officials.

Then a more modest "Plan B" was announced, a fall-back plan that would cover about 15 million Americans in case the more comprehensive package fell through.  This plan would increase coverage by expanding two existing federal programs, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, at about a fourth of the cost of more recent $950 billion Obama proposal, or about $250 billion.  This was decried by liberal Democrats who rejected the incremental approach, wondering why they should bother with half-baked solutions since they were going to take political hits anyway in November. 

Obama quickly quashed any such lukewarm proposals by the time the Health Summit rolled around.  For progressives like Obama, only the pure, unalloyed version will do.

At the summit, held at the Blair House February 26, across the street from the White House, nearly 40 Congressional leaders sat down with Obama to hash things out.  There were some memorable encounters.  Senator Lamar Alexander of Delaware pressed Democrats to pledge not to employ the legislative procedure known as "reconciliation," which requires only 51 Senate votes instead of the usual 60 votes.  While reconciliation has been used before for budgetary issues, it has never been used for something as grand as reordering one sixth of the nation's economy.  Senator Reid bristled at this, forgetting that when Republicans threatened to use it for passing Federal judges during the Bush administration, he and other Democrats referred to it as the "nuclear option," in other words, a threat to the Constitution, the Republic, and one of the worst things you could ever do.  "You shall rue the day," the Senator from Nevada had said.

There were also no end of personal anecdotes, the most memorable of which was from New York Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter, who informed us of a constituent of hers who couldn't afford dentures and had to use those of her dead sister's.  There, no doubt, was great suffering, since, the Representative mentioned, the dentures "were uncomfortable and did not fit."  Lookout for the next great liberal crisis and cause: universal denture coverage, surely one of our nation's highest priorities.

Personal or constituent anecdotes that in someway describe the utter decrepitude of our nation's health care system are generally the province of Democrats who love nothing more than stories of untold misery and suffering and hence an overwhelming need for immediate government action, but even Republican Representative Charles Boustany of Louisiana, a heart surgeon no less, got into the act, telling of his difficulty obtaining health insurance because he had arthritis.  He went on to recommend high risk pools for individuals with pre existing conditions who can't get coverage.

There were many more such accounts of the horrors of American health care.

One the other hand, one wonders why there are not more statements recounting the glories of our health care system, the cutting edge technology and research, the innovative procedures and devices, the myriad world leading teaching and research centers, the life-saving pharmaceuticals, the prompt and early referrals for imaging studies and specialists, the timely diagnoses and treatments that save lives, the efficiency and effectiveness of our hospitals, clinics, offices, and emergency rooms rendering generally superior care on a daily basis, the preponderance of Nobel Prize winners for medicine from the US, the many foreigners that choose to come to America to receive health care, or to study, train, and do research here.  Every day there are tens of thousands of Americans who receive top quality health care, swiftly, efficiently, and with successful outcomes, far more so, I would argue, than elsewhere.  There are countless more such stories than the other.  Yet, they are never mentioned.  A pity, for that more accurately describes the status and quality of American health care than the unending accounts of hardship and misfortune that inevitably prevail at such gabfests.  American health care is indeed a success story and its defenders should not shrink from saying so. 

The idea then should not be to revamp a health care system that the majority of Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of, but to improve existing deficiencies or problems with targeted but limited reforms, while preserving our high quality and standards. 

Let me also suggest the following: While hearing of the unending nightmarish stories that drip from the mouths of distraught and unglued liberals, wouldn't it be heartening (not to mention, a proper rejoinder) to hear something of a slightly different flavor: say, of someone born with a disfiguring congenital craniofacial abnormality whose entire face and head were reconstructed with a series of complicated, high stakes, staged procedures with incredibly satisfying results by one of many world class multidisciplinary craniofacial teams in this country, or of someone who was flown to Syracuse, NY, say, from Toronto (Canada) for an emergency life-saving cardiac stent done immediately because they are not available in Canada, or of the infant or child stricken with a lethal cancer that was reversed in one of our many world famous childrens' hospitals using American developed lifesaving chemotherapy drugs?  At the next such summit, someone ought to have ready a few such stories (there are tens of thousands occuring daily) - and then ask the ones affected with permanent outrage and disgust over our health care system where they would prefer to go if they or a loved one were stricken with some life-threatening illness: Canada, the UK, or here? 

Yes, there are those who are left out of the system for various reasons: pre-existing conditions, affordability issues, portability problems, "job lock," and so on.  Those specific issues can be addressed with pointed measures that could probably be spelled out on a few sheets of paper; it does not require a comprehensive overhaul, a massive new entitlement that will break the bank once and for all, while destroying the best health care system in the world.

Will someone make that argument and present those narratives?

At the end of the summit, there was no resolution, no agreement, as well there could not be.  The left in this country, as manifested by its elected leaders in the Democrat party remains smitten with the idea of universal health coverage and will not back away from a plan that many of them already feel does not go far enough.  State run medicine is the ultimate prize that assures a permanent shift of the nation to center-left and leaves small government types tinkering around the margins.  It creates a vast new program with millions of new citizen clients who will be forever aligned with the party of big government.  With control of both houses of Congress and the White House and the most leftist President in our nation's history, notwithstanding recent electoral embarrassments and an obvious turning away of independents and moderates, they will not be dissuaded. 

The incrementalist, small government types (presumably in the GOP), of course will not sign on because, hopefully, philosophically they are opposed to so grotesque an expansion of government, adverse to yet more ruinous red ink, and properly suspicious of government's ability to manage much of anything beyond the blunt and the simple such as building highways or defending the country.  Perhaps the most distressing matter is cost.  With trillion dollar annual deficits as far as the eye can see, does it make sense to add an enormous new entitlement with the nation's finances in such disarray?  Has the government been that successful in managing its many other social programs, one can ask, say, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the postal service, Fanny and Freddie, or Amtrak, all of which are hemorrhaging money and heading towards insolvency? 

Other "summit" points: The Republicans did get an opportunity to showcase some of their free market ideas.  They had a larger audience and far greater coverage than they have had thus far.  They appeared thoughtful and courteous but did not back away from their positions; they pressed the President and allies on many of their plan's most compelling deficiencies, chief of which are costs, deficits, and its grotesque complexity and size.  Republicans spoke of the absurdity of cutting $500 billion from Medicare even as it stares into the abyss of a $36 trillion unfunded obligation.

GOP Highlight: Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, politely but firmly rebuked President Obama before the assembled Congressional leaders and the nation on the cost of Obamacare; he exposed the fraudulent claims, accounting gimmicks, and double counting used by Obama that allowed him to make any number of wild assertions.  For example, he stated that his health care plan, as the Wall Street Journal reported, would "bring down the cost of healthcare for millions - families, businesses, and the federal government."  He stated that it was "fully paid for," and that it "brings down our deficit by up to $1trillion over the next two decades." 

All with a straight face.

Ryan's rebuttal: Ryan reminded the audience that Medicare has a $38 trillion unfunded liablility.  Medicaid is growing at 21% per year, adding yet more trillions in unfunded promises.  He decried the smoke and mirrors and false premises fed to the CBO that allowed them to, in turn, show the Senate bill reducing the deficit by $131 billion over 10 years.  These include the following: there are ten years of tax increases (about a half $trillion) and Medicare cuts (about a half $trillion) and only six years of spending (this is clearly the most cynical ruse of all).  The true ten year cost of the Senate bill is $2.3 trillion (not $950 billion).  It uses $52 billion in increased Social Security taxes that should go to Social Security and counts them as offsets.  It uses $72 billion in the Community Living Assistance Service and Support (CLASS) Act that should go to paying premiums for long term care and counts them as offsets.  It pillages Medicare for a half $trillion, not to strengthen the program but to pay for another entitlement.  Then there is the "doc fix," cleverly shifted from the bill and into stand alone legislation.  The cost: $371 billion (taxpayers are still liable no matter where it falls in the budget).  The full ten year cost shows a $460 billion deficit.  The second ten year cost shows a $1.4 trillion deficit.  Bottom line: it bends the deficit curve up not down and it is not paid for.  Not to mention negative effects on the economy and quality of healthcare.   

Which brings us to the whole fracas over legislative manuevers that Democrats will use to muscle a bill through without the requisite sixty votes in the Senate. 

"Reconciliation," as discussed by former Republican Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, refers to one such legislative procedure in which legislation is passed with a simple majority (not the standard sixty vote majority) with limited debate, usually intended for gradual budgetary changes - not major new social policies or entitlements.  It was initiated in 1974 as an instrument for deficit reduction; it was  first used in 1980, indeed, to reduce federal spending and in general has been employed for deficit reduction or initiating the budgetary enforcement process.  Its purpose has been to enact fiscal policy based on an agreed upon Congressional budget plan.  To employ it for the purpose of passing comprehensive legislation that would impact one sixth of the US economy was not its intended role.  This would represent a usurpation of the normal legislative process; a dangerous precedent for passing unpopular legislation; and a seismic change in the function of the Senate: from that of a "deliberative" body designed specifically by the founders to restrain the legislative process to one of hyperpartisanship. 

Social Security passed with 64% of Senate Republicans and 79% of GOP Representatives.  A majority of Senate Republicans voted for Medicare in 1965.  Both major pieces of legislation enjoyed clear bipartisan support because it reflected a popular consensus.  Not so with Obamacare.  Reconciliation limits debate to 20 hours and needs fifty votes in the Senate with Vice President as the fifty first, thereby preventing a filibuster.  Last year, Senators Harry Reid, Kent Conrad, Max Baucus and fifteen Democrat Senators opposed using this tactic to pass health care reform.  Perhaps they were more confident then of the outcome.  With their backs to the wall, they have had a change of heart.

Even with reconciliation, it will not be easy.  The House would have to pass the Senate bill as is to avoid going to conference.  But many Democrats dislike the Senate bill for not going far enough.  There are also the pro-life Democrats led by Bart Stupak who consider the Senate bill unacceptable.  Then there are the so called "blue-dog" Democrats who are already feeling the heat from constituents who dislike Obamacare.  It is they, more than any, who may feel that they have been asked to sacrifice enough already in going with Obama on stimulus and then health care.  It is they, who are the ones being asked to fall on the sword.  They may decide enough is enough.

But maybe not.  The Democrat party is a far left party.  Its members and base believe in a socialist agenda.  Nor have I discerned much difference in the voting patterns of its so called moderate, fiscally conservative "blue-dogs" and its more standard issue liberal representatives.

It is clear that liberals believe that they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to pass a massive new health care program that will give the government control over an additional one sixth of the nation's economy and move the nation irrevocably toward a European style welfare state.  It is a chance to further the progressive socialist ideals that began with the New Deal and then Great Society.  They are willing to do it even though they will explode the deficit, create another unsustainable entitlement, gut Medicare, and raise job-killing taxes.  They are determined to do it even though the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to it.  They are intent on doing it even though many Democrats in Congress will have to end their careers over it.

They will do it because it is for the greater good, for the betterment of the country, for the sake of the historic Obama Presidency and his legacy, and for the liberal faith to which they adhere and swear allegiance to. 

It is, in truth, a Democrat Jihad.  They will do it, even if they must martyr themselves, their party, and the country. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  • Chad

    March 18, 2010

    This is a well written and thoughtful essay, once again. Thank you for the time you put into writing these.

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