Published in the New York Post, July 30, 2009
House Democrats are playing a game of Whack-a-Mole as they try to devise a health-reform bill to reengineer one-sixth of our economy, but the latest "agreement" announced Wednesday makes no progress in repairing the deeply flawed legislation.
Dissident "Blue Dog" Democrats on the key House Energy and Commerce Committee had been holding the bill hostage to a list of a dozen demands, saying it costs too much and fails to address systemic problems in the nation's ailing health-care sector.
But yesterday, after days of negotiations with congressional and White House leaders, a spokesman for the group, Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), announced an agreement he said would reduce the bill's cost, increase the number of small businesses exempt from its requirements and weaken a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers.
But the Blue Dogs clearly made a deal for the sake of making a deal.
The best part of the agreement is that it delays any vote in the full House until after the August recess, so people can digest the details. When they head home this weekend, House members are sure to hear from incensed constituents alarmed about the impact of "reform" on their care.
All the other "concessions" granted to the Blue Dogs don't add up to much. Start with the cost of the bill, which they supposedly reduced by $100 billion: Problem is, the total price tag still will be nearly $1 trillion.
Not many Americans are going to believe that spending $1 trillion more on health care will somehow lower its costs. In fact, the director of the Congressional Budget Office testified that a similar bill before the Senate would "significantly expand" health costs, increase the deficit, and drive the nation more deeply into debt. The Blue Dogs' agreement does nothing to alter that fundamental fact.
And Americans don't believe the promises of politicians that they'll be able to keep the doctors and health coverage they have now. Numerous studies have shown that tens of millions of Americans are sure to lose their private insurance as government strong-arms them out of business.
The Blue Dogs said they got an agreement that government will "negotiate" its prices with doctors and hospitals. But government doesn't negotiate; it dictates prices.
Seniors are increasingly alarmed because they have learned that much of the "savings" to pay for health reform will come out of reductions in Medicare spending. They rightly fear that the government will start rationing their health care.
And Americans know that, once the reform plan is in place, tax increases won't just hit the rich but the middle class as well.
A sleeper issue that has received very little attention so far is the "individual mandate." Once the American people find out that the federal government is going to force them to purchase a health-insurance policy that it designs and compel them to pay premiums it sets — and fine them if they don't comply — they'll realize how deeply health "reform" will intrude into their lives.
There are no assurances that other House Democrats will go along with yesterday's deal. And the Senate is even further from an agreement than the House.
Meanwhile, President Obama has scaled back his pitch for sweeping health reform involving universal coverage and huge cost reductions. In speeches yesterday, he became a pitchman for insurance market reforms and "consumer protections" — the lowest common denominator of health reform.
The president clearly will fail in his attempt to steamroll the House and Senate to vote on a bill before leaving for the August recess. And this may foretell failure for his sweeping reform agenda as well.
House Republicans put some new chips on the table on Wednesday in unveiling their own health reform plan, with a likely price tag of $700 billion. It offers a mix of tax credits and deductions to help people buy insurance, gives people more options to purchase private health insurance, and includes medical malpractice reform. It also avoids unpopular mandates on individuals and businesses to buy coverage.
Lawmakers should prepare to head back to the drawing board when they return in the fall with new ideas and feedback from constituents fresh in their minds.
Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a research organization focused on market-based health-reform ideas.