Commentary

ObamaCare: An Ugly Process, and It Will Only Get Uglier

Even President Obama himself has described his attempt to overhaul health care as “an ugly process.” Count on things getting even uglier when the final vote occurs this weekend. In the pressure cooker of a final vote, the president and his allies will add even more bribes and arm-twisting to “persuade” members to vote for a government takeover of health care.

Here’s what supporters have done (so far) to advance their legislation:

First, supporters hid more than half of the cost of their legislation.

Remember how in 2003, the Bush administration suppressed an unflattering cost estimate of its Medicare prescription drug benefit by threatening to fire Medicare’s chief actuary? That was bad enough. But what supporters of the Obama plan have done is an order of magnitude worse.

If this legislation becomes law, it will be because supporters spent over a billion taxpayer dollars buying votes.”

The Obama plan, like President Clinton’s in 1993, would impose huge mandates on the private sector. Democratic economists, including Obama advisor Larry Summers, acknowledge these are essentially taxes. In 1994, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that those taxes accounted for 60 percent of the Clinton plan’s cost.

This time, supporters manipulated the CBO’s rules to prevent the agency from tallying those taxes, effectively hiding $1.5 trillion of the bill’s $2.5 trillion cost.

Second, supporters changed the rules to suit their partisan purposes.

In 2004, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) orchestrated a change in Massachusetts law to prevent a Republican governor from nominating Republicans to fill any vacant Senate seats.

In 2009, the Massachusetts legislature changed the law back, again at Kennedy’s request, so that a Democratic governor could nominate a Democrat to replace Kennedy, whose death was imminent. That blatantly partisan “switch in time” provided the crucial 60th vote necessary to advance the legislation at a critical moment.

Third, a small minority of left-wing radicals is forcing this legislation on a public that does not want it.

When Massachusetts finally got around to holding that Senate election, public opposition to the legislation was so broad and intense that the Republican won. In Massachusetts. To replace Ted Kennedy.

Democratic pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen warn that a majority of the public opposes the legislation and that “four-fifths of those who oppose the plan strongly oppose it…while only half of those who support the plan do so strongly.”

Fourth, supporters have resorted to an unusual amount of corruption to advance this legislation.

Even if the House strips out Nebraska’s $100 million “Cornhusker Kickback” and the extra Medicare benefits for Floridians (a.k.a., “Gator-Aid”), and even if the Senate goes along – two big if’s – the legislation would still contain a sweetheart deal for a hospital in Connecticut, the $300 million “Louisiana Purchase,” a $500 million giveaway to Massachusetts, a $600 million giveaway to Vermont, and other political payoffs.

If this legislation becomes law, it will be because supporters spent over a billion taxpayer dollars buying votes.

Finally, supporters appear to be dispensing with the formality that the House actually vote on the health care bill before it becomes law. Why? Because the legislation might not survive a simple, up-or-down vote.

In 2003, after the House initially rejected President Bush’s Medicare drug benefit, Republicans held the vote open for three hours, rather than the customary 15 minutes, so they could bribe and badger enough members to change the outcome. Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute rightly called it “the ugliest and most outrageous breach of standards in the modern history of the House.”

That was corrupt, but at least they held a vote. ObamaCare’s supporters have gone from demanding a simple, up-or-down vote to letting it all ride on the outcome of an entirely separate piece of legislation. Why not just let March Madness determine the outcome?

If supporters are willing go this far, then we can expect even more bribes, threats, and intimidation during the closing minutes (hours?) of the House vote on…whatever they vote on instead of ObamaCare.

Abandoning ethics to serve one’s partisan agenda is an ugly yet bipartisan tradition. But there’s an added irony when supporters of ObamaCare do it: at the same time they demonstrate what scant regard politicians have for honesty, propriety, fair play, and even public opinion, they are demanding that we trust politicians with our health care.

Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and coauthor of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.