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The Democrats' Health Care Delusion

The Democrats' Health Care Delusion

By Rich Lowry - November 23, 2009

Saturday night's health-care vote in the Senate was a theatrical fizzle. Sure, Majority Leader Harry Reid made senators sit at their desks for their vote to create a sense of "history" -- but everyone knew that he'd get the 60 votes he needed to start debate on ObamaCare.

If a $100 million Medicaid payoff to her state wasn't enough to keep Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu bought for at least a few days, there truly is no honor among thieves. Landrieu bragged about her swag, calculating that the "Lousiana Purchase" was really worth $300 million.

The two other centrist Democrats whose votes were in doubt -- Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- took refuge in the explanation that they had only a Socratic interest in opening a debate on the bill, and who could be against that?

But there was real drama Saturday -- the same drama playing out every day the Democrats persist in the political and fiscal heedlessness that characterizes their push for ObamaCare. It's as if they don't realize that they're led by a marginally popular president (dipping below 50 percent public approval in the Gallup poll last week for the first time), are deeply unpopular themselves and are pushing for legislation that is opposed by more people than support it in almost every single opinion poll.

But they do realize it -- they just don't care. They've talked themselves into the ludicrously self-delusional notion that what ails them and the president is that they haven't yet passed the hundreds of billions of dollars of tax hikes and Medicare cuts that finance (albeit incompletely) ObamaCare.

This will long be a case study in the annals of abnormal political psychology. Tax hikes undid George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton (Bush lost his presidency, Clinton his congressional majority), and Medicare cuts undid Newt Gingrich (taking the air out of his "Republican revolution"). Obama's Democrats are prescribing themselves a strong dose of both, in an exercise in self-destructive quackery.

They believe that Obama can't afford failure, that's it's the defeat of ClintonCare that killed the Democrats in 1994. But such are the grave political and substantive flaws of ObamaCare that Democrats can't afford success or failure.

If they pass it, they have tax hikes and Medicare cuts around their necks, as well as the increased insurance premiums the bill is sure to cause. If they fail, they've demonstrated their own ineffectual ideological fervor, while still putting themselves on record in favor of tax increases and Medicare cuts.

The Democrats got themselves into this hellish dilemma by not taking the obvious step of scaling back the bill once it became clear it engendered fierce public resistance. Take half a loaf, disarm your critics, call it victory, hail yourselves at the signing ceremony -- and come back for more later. It's not complicated.

Instead, they've stayed on a maximalist course. They've pushed to the point where the effort could collapse -- and, even if they succeed, they'll have done themselves and the nation's fiscal future grave harm.

This is the other element of the drama that inheres in the health-care debate: If it passes, people years and even decades from now will look back and ask, "What were they thinking?" It's a rare opportunity to see a train wreck at its inception, as the conductors make the decisions with malice afterthought that will ramify disastrously.

Everyone agrees that the nation is on an unsustainable fiscal path. So Democrats will add a $2.5 trillion entitlement to hurry us further along the path. Tax hikes that could go to reducing the deficit they'll plow into the new entitlement. Medicare cuts that could shore up Medicare's own shaky finances, they'll plow into the entitlement too (if the cuts happen at all). The new entitlement will grow at a projected 8 percent a year, and it's only through gimmickry it's made to look deficit neutral in the first decade. The cost curve of health care will be bent up, and insurance premiums, too, will rise. For all of this, ObamaCare will still leave 24 million people without health insurance.

If nothing else, watching the Democrats sacrifice so much on behalf of this monstrosity is fascinating, appalling -- and dramatic. Common sense suggests that they shouldn't do it. The basic laws of political physics say they can't do it. And yet on they march.

 

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review.
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