December 23, 2009
As the Senate Democrats' version of health care "reform" nears final passage, seemingly unstoppable, champions of freedom across the Fruited Plain are getting glum. On Wall Street, however, stocks of health insurance companies rallied sharply, in anticipation of a windfall to come their way as millions of Americans will be forced to purchase insurance from them. How ironic is that? If nothing else, it establishes without any doubt that the Democrats' proposed watered-down compromise measure is not real "reform"!
President Obama continues to insist that this reform will cut the budget deficit and lead to greater efficiencies, but few people really believe that. The budgetary gimmicky by which the revenues increase immediately while the benefits are delayed a few years, creating the false impression that the deficit will decrease, is relatively well known. But there's much more to it than that. In the Sioux Falls Argus Leader (hat tip to Dan), Dr. Dennis Johnson (one of my economics professors from college) explains how the planned reduction of payments to Medicare suppliers may well backfire as many of those suppliers will be encouraged not to accept Medicare patients. But the economizing itself is illusory whenever third-party insurance is involved: "we never are as careful in spending other people's money as we are in spending our own." It's a fundamental point that I keep arguing, but it just doesn't register with most people.
What is most galling is that the crucial legislative victory (the vote of cloture) came about after Sen. Ben Nelson won special tax treatment for his state of Nebraska. Once again, the important vote came in the middle of the night, when few Americans were paying attention. Well, I was watching at least. The Senate bill permanently exempts Nebraska from paying its share of Medicaid costs, a flagrant violation of the constitutional norm of equal protection under the laws. The entire federal system of government rests upon the notion that there is to be no discrimination among the states.
One positive sign is that attorneys general in seven states are considering a legal challenge to the constitutionality of that special tax break for Nebraska. (Some will recall that the land now occupied by Nebraska was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and therefore this adds another layer of irony to the recent "purchase" of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's vote last month. See Yahoo News; hat tip to Carl Tate. If you ask me, however, that is only a small part of the overall problem of Obamacare's unconstitutionality, so I replied to Carl on Facebook:
A widespread commitment to abide by the rules is what separates civilized people from barbarians. If the universal health insurance mandate is not ruled unconstitutional, then it's hard to imagine what other congressional measure ever would be. Twilight of the American Republic?
Let's just hope enough Supreme Court justices realize what is at stake to prevent this act of government coercion from being enacted.
Many Republicans are decrying the dire fiscal consequences of Obamacare, but those complaints ring hollow to anyone who has been following the news closely for the past few years. Historian Matthew Poteat called attention to a fine column on Republican budgetary hypocrisy at Forbes.com by Bruce Bartlett. It focuses on the Medicare drug benefit of 2003 and other examples of fiscal profligacy under the Bush administration. So, I commented on Facebook:
Oh, DO I remember it! Unfortunately, those of us who criticized the prescription drug benefit at the time were called disloyal, and now those very same Bush supporters are pretending to be fiscal conservatives! WTF!?? The author of that op-ed piece, Bruce Bartlett, wrote the book "Impostor," a fine expose on the Bush-Rove cronies and their sorry legacy of fiscal irresponsibility. See my Politics blog page.
[The full title of Bartlett's book is Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.] If only the Republican Party had a credible record on balancing the budget, we might be able to convince enough independents and moderate Democrats to stop Obamacare before it's too late. What a pity...
Many moderate Democrats are fearful that supporting Obamacare will cost them their jobs in next year's election. To save his career, Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith has switched to the Republican side, the first House Democrat to do so since 2004. In August Griffith announced he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi for another term as House Speaker, a sign of discontent within Democratic ranks. See politico.com. Welcome Congressman Griffith! Let's just hope that the right-wing Republicans don't instantly jump all over Griffith for being a "RINO." After all, our side desperately needs to encourage more Democrats to switch.
One of my favorite Republicans in Congress, Frank Wolf, is distinguished as a reliable Reagan conservative, strong on budget balancing and foreign policy, but also very committed to idealistic causes such as human rights. He recently posted a video that he and other members of Congress made to Darfur, in western Sudan. This is one of the few cases of an issue that ought to be drawing broad bipartisan support, and yet very little action has been taken by the State Department. See Wolf's Web site.