Critical Condition

A Matter of Principle

 While 60 senators have voted to pass a gigantic, government-directed overhaul of our health sector, the battles back home are just beginning.  


Sen. Ben Nelson subjected himself and his state to nationwide ridicule for the special deals he cut in exchange for his vote, and the controversy will become a firestorm once he heads home for the holidays. His earlier pledge that “my vote is not for sale, period” will become legendary. 


Nebraska’s Republican governor Dave Heineman already is fighting back. He said on Wednesday that “the federal government can keep that money. . . . The last few days have made Nebraskans so angry that now it’s a matter of principle.” 


Members have been in virtual lockdown since Nancy Pelosi reportedly confided, after the tumultuous town-hall meetings in August, “We have to keep members away from their constituents so we can pass this bill.”


The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, taken December 11–14, finds that the proportion of people who believe President Obama’s reform plan is a good idea has sunk to its lowest level: 32 percent, versus 47 percent who say it’s a bad idea. Democrats are being told that once they start selling this bill, the poll numbers will turn around. Instead, they should prepare to face a blast of opposition from constituents who are mad and frustrated that Congress has not listened to them. 


The American people are not going to be sold on rhetoric. The Internet, cable news, and a proliferation of talk-radio shows have changed policy-making forever. The American people have many more sources than ever before about what’s in legislation, including the opportunity to read the bills themselves. This better informed electorate simply isn’t buying any fuzzy rhetoric. 


You know the long list of voter concerns — health insurance costs will rise, Medicare cuts will lead to rationing, two huge new entitlement programs will exacerbate the soaring federal deficit, mandates will force individuals to purchase expensive, government-dictated health insurance, unelected government boards will make decisions about medical care, and on and on. 


Fears that the bill will be a budget buster were reinforced by Wednesday’s Congressional Budget Office post showing the Senate bill double-counts Medicare savings. The letter said that savings to the Medicare program “would be received by the government only once . . . they cannot be set aside to pay for future Medicare spending and, at the same time, pay for current spending on other parts of the legislation or on other programs.” And, by the way, the savings are fiction to begin with because Congress will not allow Medicare payments to be cut by 21 percent and more, as the bill requires. 


And opposition from outside groups that have been relatively quiet until now is growing: 


According to Politico: “Some of the biggest employers in the U.S. are warning that a provision in the Senate’s proposed health-care overhaul could lead to cuts in retiree benefits and a sharp reduction in reported earnings next year.  


“Companies including Boeing Co., Deere & Co., MetLife Inc. and Xerox Corp. plan to lobby Democratic leaders to drop the provision, which would change the tax status of payments for retiree health benefits. . . . The AFL-CIO has joined the corporate giants in an unusual alliance to warn the provision would encourage companies to drop drug benefits for millions of retirees.” 


They will join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been out front from the beginning with its concerns, as well as doctors’ groups representing more than 240,000 physicians, and now the National Federation of Independent Business. The NFIB came out strongly last week against the Senate bill, saying it “is short on savings and long on costs, is the wrong reform, at the wrong time and will increase healthcare costs and the cost of doing business.”  


And the new “Start Over” coalition of leading business organizations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and many others said the Senate bill “will lead to higher costs and increased burdens on small businesses. The bill will cause greater damage to our economy and health care system . . . [and] will impose new burdens on small businesses.” 


Endorsements from the AARP and the American Medical Association that the White House regularly touts will pale by comparison. 


So the vote has been taken. An exhausted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid nearly voted against his own bill. He said “No” on final passage before quickly recognizing his error and switching to yes, as the Senate chamber erupted in laughter. 


“I spent a very restless night last night trying to figure out how I could show some bipartisanship and I think I was able to accomplish that for a few minutes,” Reid joked to reporters. 


Former Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. John Dingell had the last word. He came to the Senate to watch the final vote and said afterward: “It’s pretty clear to me, and I think pretty clear to all of you, that nobody is going to be happy with this,” adding that much more work remains to be done.  


Amen. And to all, a good night. This is not over.

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