By this point, it should surprise no one that, when lawmakers in Washington propose one spending item, they are speaking about another — and often several — entirely.
So it was with the last few iterations of the so-called “infrastructure” package, which had markedly little to do with infrastructure and much to do with lawmakers’ partisan pet projects.
So it is with Senator Bernie Sanders’s recently proposed $3.5 trillion “infrastructure” package — that’s just the sticker price; the real price ranges between $5 trillion and $5.5 trillion — which supporters hope to push by a party-line vote after the passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan “infrastructure” plan.
Again, this new plan would do almost nothing to build or maintain America’s critical infrastructure, and, of course, that was never Washington’s true goal. Little if any of this spending would go toward roads and bridges.
The new plan would put the federal government more in charge of your health care at a price tag greater than the Affordable Care Act. At a time when Americans want greater personal control over their care, the Sanders proposal would create new one-size-fits-none entitlements and expand others, requiring much higher levels of spending and taxation.
And none of this would do much to actually improve health-care outcomes. Such schemes rarely do.
It would behoove lawmakers opposed to astronomically higher levels of spending to focus their attention on health care. If they don’t, taxpayers will find themselves tasked with funding yet another expensive, permanent, and unshrinkable entitlement program. Here’s what it may include.
First, news reports suggest that Sanders is planning to lower the Medicare eligibility to 60 from the current 65 at a cost of $200 billion over ten years. Adding 23 million non-seniors to the rolls on top of the 61 million seniors and disabled people who currently rely on Medicare is highly irresponsible, especially at a time when Medicare’s hospital-benefits trust fund is projected to go broke as soon as 2026.
But there is another, larger problem: By adding tens of millions more to Medicare, Senator Sanders would be lowering the quality of, and limiting access to, medical care for America’s vulnerable seniors who use the program.
Sanders’s plan would also expand Medicare for dental, vision, and hearing to the tune of $370 billion over ten years, duplicating coverage and further straining the financially strapped program, likely leading to care rationing and higher premiums for seniors.
It is also an unnecessary expense. Medicare already offers care for certain serious dental, vision, and hearing issues, and many Medicare Advantage plans offer routine care for teeth, eyes, and ears. And, of course, a multitude of private plans are available to seniors for these types of care.
The plan would pressure states to expand Medicaid, a program that — it is apparently very easy for lawmakers to forget — is designed to help low-income Americans. Nevertheless, some in Congress want the program to cover more able-bodied adults, forcing states to either raise taxes or cut other essential programs.
But the Sanders plan isn’t only partisan wish-casting on health care. It makes sure to indulge in the obligatory palm-greasing for which Washington is infamous.
The proposal calls for new, permanent subsidies for insurance companies and making high-income Americans eligible for subsidized insurance. It would also reward President Biden’s union supporters trying to organize workers in Medicaid-funded and state-run home-based services.
In short, politically connected groups will make a windfall from this deal. If you’re hoping for federal money to repair the highway you drive on to work every day, don’t hold your breath. This proposal is intended to line pockets, not pave roads.
Congress will pay for this proposal in typical fashion: printing more money and taxing Americans at a higher rate, including a threatened 95 percent tax hike on the most common prescription drugs if manufacturers don’t agree to top-down, government-imposed price controls.
Only Congress could believe that Americans could be made healthier with reduced access to the medications on which they depend. Everyone else knows better.
Lawmakers must reject this proposal. But they should not focus solely on the skin-deep debate over infrastructure. That isn’t what these packages are about.
Instead, lawmakers need to pay attention to what’s actually going on in Senator Sanders’s proposal and the harm it would do to health-care outcomes. It’s the issue Americans care about the most, and it is where Congress is poised to inflict the greatest damage.
Bobby Jindal, a Republican, served as Louisiana’s secretary of health and hospitals (1996–98), an assistant U.S. secretary of health and human services (2001–03), and governor of Louisiana (2008–16). Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity.