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The finale of the health-care debate couldn’t be more fitting. House Democrats are considering passing an exotic parliamentary rule relieving them of the burden of voting for the underlying bill, which will be “deemed” passed.
So a bill sold under blatantly false pretenses and passed in the Senate on the strength of indefensible deals would become law in a final flourish of deceptive high-handedness. How appropriate for what would be the worst piece of federal domestic legislation since the fascistic, recovery-impairing National Recovery Act of 1933 or the Prohibition disaster of 1920.
After Scott Brown’s victory, Democrats claimed to understand how the ugly process had undermined support for the bill. Since then, to paraphrase Alice, it’s gotten uglier and uglier. Because they no longer had 60 votes in the Senate, Democrats decided to bypass regular order in the upper body with so-called reconciliation rules dispensing with the filibuster.
These rules were supposed to be used to eliminate all the bill’s unsightly special deals. One of those deals for a Democratic interest group will actually be extended, however. Once touted as the prime cost-saving measure in the bill, the Cadillac tax on high-end health plans will be delayed until 2018 at the behest of the unions.
And who’s to say what constitutes a “special deal”? After hearing from powerful senators, the White House has a new affection for spending provisions tailored for Connecticut, Montana, and Louisiana. Obama strategist David Axelrod explains that the additional hundreds of billions in Medicaid dollars of the “Louisiana Purchase” could theoretically be available to any state — even though the Senate bill devotes pages to describing cryptic, Louisiana-specific eligibility criteria.
Ordinarily, differences between Senate-passed and House-passed bills are worked out in a conference committee, producing a compromise bill for consideration by both houses. Instead, Democrats want the House to pass an un-amended Senate bill that will be cleaned up later. But the Senate bill is so radioactive that the House wants to sidestep a direct vote on it. No conference committee, no separate House vote: Change has indeed come to Washington.
The endlessly improvised process wouldn’t be necessary if Democrats had persuaded the public of the merits of bill. Pres. Barack Obama’s “closing argument” is as unconvincing as his fantastic assurances that a new entitlement slated to grow at 8 percent a year will contain costs and reduce the deficit.
Obama has taken to lambasting the insurers. Never mind that, as Robert Samuelson of Newsweek points out, the profits of the largest insurers amount to only 0.4 percent of total annual medical costs, which are fundamentally driven by the price and volume of care. Obama uses Anthem Blue Cross in California as a whipping boy on the basis of its planned rate increase for individual insurance of as much as 39 percent.
And how exactly is Obama is going to stop such rate increases? Massachusetts already adopted a version of Obamacare, and its average insurance premiums are still the highest in the country. Obama wants to set up a federal Health Insurance Rate Authority. But most states already require insurers in the individual markets to get prior approval for rate increases. Obama’s anti-insurer jag is only the latest sedimentary layer on top of his ever-shifting, opportunistic, and literally incredible case for his bill.
Obama has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want the health-care bill to fund abortion and that it won’t. But when a Hyde Amendment–style prohibition on abortion funding passed the House on a strong bipartisan vote, fulfilling his stated desire, Obama didn’t ask for it to be included in the Senate bill. Now, the final bill will in all likelihood fund abortion, putting the lie to all he said.
That, too, is fitting. If they force the bill through, Democrats will have “made history,” although not the kind they imagine. Obamacare will constitute a ramshackle monument to partisan willfulness and unscrupulous salesmanship that should forever discredit its architects.
– Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.