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Missteps toward health care reform

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on March 16, 2010 at 7:35 pm with 5 Comments »
March 16, 2010 5:37 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

This country needs health care reform. Medical coverage must be extended to the tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it. But the details matter, and so does the way Congress makes the key decisions.

It’s a bad sign that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is talking about using a procedural gimmick that would let House Democrats vote to pass a bill while pretending that they didn’t vote to pass it.

The scheme arises from the fact that Democrats in the House and Senate weren’t able to agree on the particulars of a reform package while the Democrats still held a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Now the House must approve the Senate bill in its entirety in order to fast-track the issue to “reconciliation,” a process the Democrats want to use to produce a compromise bill not subject to filibuster.

Since so many Democrats don’t want their fingerprints on the Senate bill, Pelosi says she may smuggle it (our words, not hers) through a floor vote with a measure stating that it is “deemed” to have passed. The word – normally used more honestly – would presumably let lawmakers claim that deeming isn’t approving and they aren’t necessarily the ones who did the deeming.

Pelosi, at least, is honest about the subterfuge: She’s inclined toward using the deeming maneuver on the Senate package because there are “a lot of people who don’t want to vote for it.”

Come on. Americans aren’t idiots. Members of Congress ought to be able to explain a tactical vote for a measure they don’t like for the sake of getting a measure they prefer more. Deeming may be suitable for housekeeping bills, but a dodge like this has no place in legislating a massive overhaul of American health care.

This is part of a larger problem: haste. Democrats leaders are rushing to send President Obama a bill before Congress takes its Easter break. Yet rank-and-file lawmakers, not to mention the public, don’t know the details of the package likely to be thrown at them in a matter of days with a demand from leadership for immediate passage.

Only the broad outlines of the “compromise” have been released pending Congressional Budget Office cost analysis. The big picture is familiar: Individual mandate to carry health insurance, subsidies for the poor, no denial of insurance to the sick, etc.

But there are indications that Obama and Democratic leaders have lost interest in cost control – the disciplinary component needed to protect the public from medical hyperinflation and keep the system from collapsing under the weight of its own expenses.

The most serious cost-control provision we’ve seen so far has been the Senate’s proposal for a tax on lavish, inflation-driving “Cadillac” health plans. In the compromise plan, that measure appears to have been gutted under pressure from unions, whose members – especially in government jobs – tend to enjoy the most generous coverage in America.

Legislation as important as this shouldn’t be rushed through in the dead of night without allowing Americans a chance to read the fine print – or knowing exactly where their representatives stood on the crucial votes.

Leave a comment Comments → 5
  1. It’s not like this approach is anything new, hon. Lawmakers are now squabbling over concepts like “deeming” and “self-executing rules.” NPR reports: “….despite Republican claims that such parliamentary gymnastics as reconciliation and self-executing rules are somehow in violation of House rules or rare, neither is the case, says congressional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution. ‘On the self-executing rule, Republicans in their last Congress that they controlled, the 109th, used it 36 times; the Democrats, in the next Congress they controlled, used it 49 times,’ Mann said. And in many cases, Mann says, they were on some pretty major bills. “The reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, the Deficit Control Conference Report; all kinds of major measures have been approved through self-executing rules, which means the House votes indirectly rather than separately on these measures.” This is how hard ball is played, sir. Welcome to reality and the big leagues. Patrick, dear, It helps if you sit down and take big breaths. It won’t be pretty but they’re gonna git ‘er done. 46.3 million Americans are gonna get some health insurance coverage.

  2. Hey pjizant, I would love to see some quotes from when ‘anyone’ has used the Slaughter House tactic. Can you reference anyone? You can’t because it has never happened in the House.

    Everyone wants Healthcare Reform, just not this reform/exceptions/kickbacks. To say this bill is solely to reform Healthcare is ignorant. There are too many exceptions and kickbacks to take it seriously.

    I’m tired of being placed in this pool of insensitive, hated “Republicans” that aren’t compassionate toward sick children or suffering elders. Compassion doesn’t equal affordable. In a perfect world everyone would have the best of everything; big house, nice car, 100k+ job, free health care. Guess what, it’s not a perfect world.

  3. Patrick,
    I appreciate that you’ve posted this, and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    One question, though, how long is long enough to discuss an issue? The current incarnation of this debate has been going on for a year. The ongoing conversation has roots going back nearly a century.

    The PATRIOT ACT was proposed and passed quickly, under Tom DeLay’s leadership, and the vote was held open in the dead of the night for it to pass.

    A large chunk of our revenue went missing as the Republican controlled congress and the President sought to cut estate taxes in 2001/02. Again, with “parliamentary tricks”.

    Is it messy? yes. But the rules are consistent, and people who are there know the rules of the game, there should be no surprises.

    I am impressed with the dedication of our President to keep the debate running, there is no issue in the last 30 years that has had this much public discourse.

  4. Tout d’abord hello. Je vous remercie. Cet imposant trait� m’aide divinement. Toutes mes f�licitations. Compliments encore une fois!

  5. I enjoy the commentary on this website, it really gives it that community sense!

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