Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.

Undone by Overreach


Majority Leader Harry Reid is having a difficult time piecing together a health-reform bill that will get 60 votes in the Senate because of his overreach in trying to create a health-care “system” that would be run out of Washington.

We don’t have a health-care system now, but rather countless independent programs and entities. In trying to assemble them into a system, all of the parts must interlock. Pull out one and several others collapse — threatening to tear apart the entire overhaul.

When Sen. Joe Lieberman vowed to vote against the Senate bill if it contains a public plan, Reid had to have something to replace it. He revived a Kennedy-era idea to lower the age of Medicare eligibility to 55. But when Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) let it slip that this would constitute “the mother of all public options,” Reid’s hand was called. “Expanding Medicare is an unvarnished, complete victory for people like me who support a single-payer system,” Weiner inconveniently boasted. “Never mind the camel’s nose — we got his head and neck in the tent.”

Expanding Medicare would be the mother of all entitlements. And that would be on top of a huge expansion of Medicaid envisions in the bill (the mother-in-law of all entitlements).

Americans do not want Washington controlling the health sector — or creating a federal health-care system. Public opinion is strongly against the bill, with CNN reporting that 61 percent of those surveyed don’t want it to pass.

I just don’t see how Harry Reid is going to put together 60 votes for his sweeping overhaul. Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) won’t have the votes to attach an amendment prohibiting federal funds from paying for abortions, and he says he can’t vote for the bill if it allows abortion coverage. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) won’t vote for anything that contains a public plan — or even the trigger that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R., Maine) likes. And Lieberman won’t vote for a Medicare expansion.

And then there is the big question of how they pay for it. The House won’t vote for taxing Cadillac health plans, and the Senate won’t vote for the tax on the rich in the House bill. Other lawmakers have said they absolutely won’t vote for a bill that increases health costs. And the latest report from the administration’s top health actuary, Rick Foster, admitted on Friday that the Reid bill would increase health spending, cause millions of people to lose their current coverage, and cause at least 20 percent of Medicare providers to go under.

Overreach was the downfall of health reform in 2009. The only way Democrats are going to regroup and pass health reform in 2010 is with a smaller bill that includes bipartisan ideas. And with 2010 an election year, that will be an even heavier lift than 2009’s reform effort.

– Grace-Marie Turner is the president of the Galen Institute.


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