Sen. Harry Reid has been a kind of reverse Houdini with a talent for getting into traps. To appease Democratic moderates, he proposed to drop the public option, which made liberals furious. To get back in their good graces, he suggested expanding Medicare by letting people as young as 55 participate in it — but that led Sen. Joe Lieberman to threaten to join Republicans in a filibuster. If Reid manages to cobble together a deal that gets 60 votes, he may find that it cannot win majority approval in the House. The Senate and House do not, for example, see eye to eye on abortion funding. And if Reid and Nancy Pelosi somehow squeak something through Congress, they may walk into the biggest trap of all. They will have pushed through a major, unpopular piece of legislation on a party-line vote.
Democrats seem to be reconciling themselves to losing seats in order to achieve their health-care ambitions. A few ended political careers will be the price of progress. This attitude would be admirable were it not delusional. This legislation will not reduce health-care costs; the Obama administration’s own actuaries have just reported that it will increase them. It is unlikely to make Americans healthier: The evidence tying extensions of insurance to improved health outcomes is surprisingly weak. Insurance will reduce the financial anxiety of some people; but others will find theirs increased. Some will still lack insurance, but now have to pay a fine for the privilege. Some will be paying higher premiums and taxes.
The Medicare buy-in that Reid proposed is the perfect distillation of the Democratic approach. It would expand a program that is already facing insolvency. Similarly, the bill attempts to achieve cost control by empowering the Medicare and Medicaid bureaucracy to drive hard bargains — a policy that has been tried, and has failed, for decades.
Ramming through complex, far-reaching, and unpopular legislation on a party-line vote would be unprecedented, and if it happens it should call forth an equally unprecedented response. Federal programs tend to last regardless of their results. This time, Republicans should commit themselves not to let that happen. If anything resembling the current health-care legislation passes, Republicans should spend the next two election campaigns vowing to repeal it. We should both deny liberals their cause and give them their martyrdom.