Tom Patterson: You’ve probably heard the Senate Finance Committee recently conducted hearings on the health reform bill sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. As every student of government knows, that’s the crucial step in drafting legislation. It is when committee members drill down into the details to make sure the bill does what it’s supposed to do, right? Well, not exactly.
You’ve probably heard the Senate Finance Committee recently conducted hearings on the health reform bill sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. As every student of government knows, that’s the crucial step in drafting legislation. It is when committee members drill down into the details to make sure the bill does what it’s supposed to do, right? Well, not exactly.
Believe it or not, the bill being debated hadn’t even been written. Just when we thought we’d seen it all — Congress forced to vote on budget-busting bills before anybody could read them — now we have the spectacle of committee members considering for action a bill that actually does not exist. So what difference does it make, you might say. Don’t committee members know generally what’s in the bill? Why worry about piddling procedural matters?
But it does make a difference, a huge difference. There’s a reason committees are charged with carefully examining the fine print and making sure the language of the bill is crafted accurately. This oversight protects the integrity of the legislative process. It keeps secret side deals out of bills and forces all of the players, including the rich and the powerful, to play by the same rules.
So why would the Obamacare team go into helter-skelter mode? It turns out they have their reasons to avoid prying eyes scrutinizing their handiwork. Their “bill” is chock-full of special favors for its well-connected sponsors.
Example: One of the ways the bill saves expenses for the federal government is by mandating an expansion of Medicaid services for the poor. The tab for the states is a hefty $37 billion, which is terrible news for financially stressed states like Arizona. But not all states will be forced to “accept additional Medicaid responsibilities.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., up for re-election next year, arranged for the feds to pick up the expenses for his state and three others for the first five years.
Here’s another one. The plan calls for a 40 percent tax on insurance premiums higher than $21,000 a year. Unless you live in New York, that is, where Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., successfully demanded a higher threshold for residents of his and 17 other mostly Democratic states.
Reading on, senators from union-dominated Michigan and Massachusetts scored a $5 billion fund to defray the medical costs of union members, especially early retirees. It’s kind of strange that’s needed, though, since Obamacare backers still claim costs will magically come down for all when their plan goes into effect. But it’s comforting to know that union members in their 40s and 50s won’t have to stay on the job just because they’re in the same boat as the rest of us for medical costs. There’s more weird stuff in the plan, but you get the idea.
But when it comes to failing to stand up to scrutiny, the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the “bill” takes the cake. The mainstream media and other Obamacare supporters were elated when the CBO “found” that the Baucus proposal would cost only $829 billion over 10 years, would actually reduce the deficit by $81 billion and cover 29 million additional Americans. Unfortunately, this rosy scenario is based on budgetary gimmicks that can’t possibly work.
For example, Congress already passed cuts in Medicare physician payments beginning in 2003. But every year, Congress has to rescind the cuts because they’re not doable. Yet the Baucus plan claims it will produce $234 billion in savings from Congress actually making these same cuts.
So soon, we’re told, radical reductions in Medicare spending will suddenly be financially and politically practical. According to this voodoo economics, $45 billion can be cut from payments to hospitals that serve the indigent and $162 billion more can be carved out of the popular Medicare Advantage plans. Sure, and watch out for those flying pigs!
Even if the government did save money (which it won’t), the American people would pay much more under the proposal. The plan would raise money by taxing medical goods and services. This would raise, not lower, the costs of medical care. The private sector would actually pay up to 60 percent of the new costs in the plan, including the fines, mandates and additional taxes that millions of middle-income Americans would face.
It’s common knowledge that President Barack Obama desperately needs a win. But the plan has degenerated into an incoherent muddle of bad ideas and the American people know it. It’s time to quit the insider shenanigans and get back to the drawing board to do something that would actually work.
East Valley resident Tom Patterson (email@example.com) is a retired emergency room physician and former state senator.