The mad scramble for votes to pass Obamacare turned into a nail-biting drama on Saturday in Washington, with the outcome just as uncertain as the March Madness college-basketball playoffs.
President Obama made it clear to reluctant House Democrats during a rally in the Capitol that his presidency hangs in the balance if the legislation fails. But rank-and-file Democrats believe their careers hang in the balance as well if they vote for a bill that is so massively unpopular with the American people.
The telephone lines to congressional offices were in virtual meltdown this week, struggling to handle 100,000 calls an hour for a system with only half that capacity. The president’s approval rating continues to fall the longer he talks about health care, with Rasmussen reporting Saturday that it has dipped to its lowest level yet at 43 percent.
This is the end result of a political system that rewards politicians who put winning and power over good policy and that try to pit one constituency against another to gain votes.
If Speaker Pelosi succeeds in getting 216 votes this weekend, Obamacare will quickly be signed into law in the guise of the 2,700-page Senate bill. Then the Senate will begin the tortured process of trying to pass a second health-reform bill through its budget-reconciliation process to fix what the House doesn’t like in the first one.
Rather than healing the nation, as Obama promised during his campaign, passing his signature domestic-policy legislation will tear at the fabric of the country, pulling us further apart.
The American people are on to the game. They know they are being lied to about what the bill will do, with the president and his allies talking about window dressing when people know there will be a flood of red for years to come to pay for new entitlements we can’t afford.
But worse, the bill changes the very nature of the relationship between people and the government. The Senate bill contains at least 163 references to penalties and more than 1,000 new requirements that could bring in the feds.
The House added $10 billion in the second bill so the government can hire at least 16,000 more IRS agents. The government will be able to peer into the books of every company in the country to see if it is complying with the complex rules telling them what health insurance they must provide to their workers and how much they must pay.
In Massachusetts, where a similar mandate already is on the books, business owners have told pollsters that complying with the regulatory red tape of the state’s health-reform law is even more onerous than the cost of providing the insurance.
In addition, every American will be forced to report to the government if they have the required health-insurance policy. Agents soon will be snooping into our health information and health habits and looking at the details of our tax forms to see if we do, in fact, qualify for federal health-insurance subsidies. Fines, penalties, and possibly even jail terms could follow.
Then there will be battles pitting states against the federal government. At least 37 states have introduced legislation saying they will refuse to comply with Washington’s new mandates. And lawsuits already are prepared to challenge the validity of the process and content of Obamacare, likely bringing the Supreme Court into the fray.
Clearly, these us-against-them political games would much better left to the basketball courts than the political process. If this bill is passed, the president may well gain a political legacy, but it’s very likely to be one that he and the country will regret for decades.
Published in National Review Online: Critical Condition, March 20, 2010.