Bad Bill, Shameful Process

March 18, 2010

Today, we find ourselves at a place with health care reform that no one could have imagined a year ago. The road to where we are today has been a series of bad ideas, followed by a partisan sleight-of-hand legislative process. If someone, a year ago, had described the current bill that is on the cusp of being passed, and had explained the process that was to be used to pass it -- I think any sane person would have said, "That's ludicrous, the American people would never allow this to happen." You would have thought that there would be such outrage that no politician in their right mind would vote for it. Yet here we are, close to having a bill signed into law that will have a devastating impact on Medicare, burden us and our children for decades with an enormous mill stone of debt, and steal away basic freedoms that may never be restored.

I think it's important to step back and review all the facts, starting with the Senate bill that is the focus today, then moving to the process being considered by the House and Senate to get a final bill to the President, and lastly, considering what it all means to us and what we can do about it.

I will try as simply and succinctly as I can to explain both the content and the lineage of the Senate bill that is the focus of the House this week. The Senate bill, which was passed on Christmas Eve, contains:

  • Almost $500 billion in cuts to Medicare.

  • The establishment of a presidentially appointed board to tell doctors how they must practice medicine.

  • A restriction on building or completing new high-quality physician-owned hospitals, or expanding existing ones.

  • The "cornhusker kickback", the "Louisiana purchase" and over 10 other special deals.

  • A mandate that everyone must purchase health insurance, a mandate that appears to violate the Constitution and which is sure to be challenged in court.

  • The use of accounting "trickery" (such as assuming the broad 21 percent cut in doctor payments paid by Medicare will actually take place) that hides the trillion plus dollars of debt the country will be saddled with over the next 20 years and beyond.

  • No input or votes from the minority party

The Senate bill doesn't contain a public option because the Senators went back to their states last August and heard loud and clear from their constituents about how bad this bill really was, and how deeply it was opposed. They thought that by extracting the public option they could quiet them down, but how wrong they were. It also doesn't contain the strong language to prohibit public funded abortions contained in the previously passed House bill. No matter how much everyone tries to hide, re-define and dispute the facts, the Senate bill passed on Christmas Eve, was and is still today, a bad and destructive bill.

The process the Democrats in the House and Senate are using to try to push this bill through uses every legislative trick in the book and some that haven't been invented yet. While the use of reconciliation has been used before, it hasn't been used on legislation that affects over 16 percent of our economy. Legislation this important should be bipartisan and give a voice to the minority. Why wasn't that done on what the President describes as the most important piece of legislation of our generation? While the various Senate backroom deals were indeed a travesty, the next legislative trick really uncovers the true nature of this legislation. This trick is proposing a rule that will allow the House to "deem" the Senate health-care bill to have passed without actually voting on it. This will allow House Members the supposed cover of not having to actually vote on the Senate bill. This makes a mockery of our legislative system. What does that say about both the Senate bill and the spineless members of the House? The proof of their disdain for voting on this bad bill was buttressed by their earlier vote to defeat a rule that would require the House to vote up or down on the Senate bill prior to reconciliation. This is the up and down vote that the President said he wanted at the health reform summit. This approach, to "deem" a bill is passed, runs counter to every concept, of good government and makes a mockery of our legislative system.

While it is to the benefit of some to make the facts and processes seem complicated, the simple facts bear out how bad this bill and the approach being used to pass it really are. The fact is - a vote to pass the rule to "deem" the Senate bill to be passed will be counted by the American people as a vote in favor of all the back room deals, the watered-down abortion language, the sleight-of-hand accounting, and most importantly, the huge cuts to Medicare. The fact is - the verdict on whether Americans like this bill is in; every poll indicates that America doesn't like it. The reason they don't like it is not because they have been hoodwinked or frightened, as some have said, but because they understand the full ramifications of the legislation. The fact is – as bad as this legislation is -- the people who should really be frightened are the Members of Congress who have chosen to ignore the will of the people, and therefore ignore one of the basic tenets of a representative democracy. The fact is - I'm tired of the intimation of some that older Americans are being led around by smooth talking radio hosts and fear mongering special interest groups. I think that the only things that older Americans are led by are a lifetime of experience and a belief in the constitution and the rule of law. I think they have used those tools to decipher the health care reform bill and arrive at and voice their verdict. It is their duly elected representatives who have chosen to ignore this important voice, the experienced voice of reason.

I'm asking you to once again make your voice heard loud and clear by calling the office of your Representative and to tell him or her exactly how you feel about this terrible legislation. Remind them that you are watching how they vote on every vote, and then remind them that you will be voting this November with their votes in mind. Finally, tell them if it passes, they will own it!

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