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Culture of Corruption Produces Awful Health Care Bill

Culture of Corruption Produces Awful Health Care Bill

By Robert Tracinski - January 8, 2010

Usually a major welfare-state bill has to be passed by Congress and go into effect before it is exposed as corrupt. The money has to actually be flowing out of Washington before anyone notices that it's being diverted into a cesspool of special favors and sweetheart deals.

But a lot of things are unprecedented about the current push for a health care bill. Never has such a major expansion of the welfare state been passed without bipartisan support and broad approval from the public. And rarely has the corruption of a program been exposed while it is still awaiting final approval in Congress.

In this case, the special favors and vote-buying are so gaudy that some of the corrupt deals even have their own names: the "Cornhusker Kickback" and the "Louisiana Purchase." In order to squeak by with the votes they needed in the House and Senate, Democratic leader offered money for hospitals in some districts, exemptions for limitations on Medicare Advantage programs in other districts, special tax breaks here and federal subsidies there.

It's so bad that fellow Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln felt the need to publicly denounce Ben Nelson's "horse-trading" on behalf of Nebraska, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a liberal Republican who used to support the health care bill, has turned against it. Schwarzenegger explains: "While I enthusiastically support health care reform, it is not reform to push more costs onto states that are already struggling while other states get sweetheart deals. Health care reform, which started as noble and needed legislation, has become a trough of bribes, deals, and loopholes."

And Senator Nelson himself is now saying "I think it was a mistake"—not the rotten compromise he asked for, but the administration's whole decision to pursue a health care bill in the first place rather than focusing on reviving the economy.

Amazingly, under pressure, the Democrats are not scaling back on the corruption of this bill. They're doubling down. They are trying to salvage a corrupt product by adopting a corrupt process, canceling the traditional conference committee that would harmonize the House and Senate versions of the bill, in favor of closed-door negotiations to produce an even more complicated and opaque compromise.

This is being done in flagrant violation of one of President Obama's major campaign promises: to make the health-care negotiations available to public and specifically to broadcast them on C-SPAN. Breitbart TV has a montage of no fewer than eight campaign appearances at which Obama made this promise, and C-SPAN's Brian Lamb has written an open letter demanding that the president make good on it. The White House has responded by refusing to answer questions on the issue, while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi just had a Baghdad Bob moment. Baghdad Bob, you may recall, was the Iraqi propaganda flack who famously declared "There are no American infidels in Baghdad" while US tanks were rolling into Saddam's parade grounds less than a mile away. With equal plausibility, Pelosi declared that "There has never been a more open process for any legislation."

Here's how the Associated Press describes this "open process":

Democratic aides said the final compromise talks would essentially be a three-way negotiation involving top Democrats in the House and Senate and the White House, a structure that gives unusual latitude to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California….

[T]he plan is to skip the formal meetings, reach an agreement, then have the two houses vote as quickly as possible.

In short, Pelosi, Reid, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will cobble together 2,000 pages of legislation between themselves, larding the bill with special favors and obscure clauses—then they'll spring it on rank-and-file Democratic congressmen and order them to vote for it within a day or two, before they can even figure out what's in it.

How long before some Democratic congressmen become tired of being abused in this fashion—or begin to fear being seen as political hacks by their constituents back home?

The special deals and payoffs are incidental to the bill in one sense; if they were all removed it would still be a bad bill. But in another sense, they reveal something essential about a government takeover of health care: it is all about looting, about how one group of people can tax and regulate others in an attempt to get something for nothing. All statist programs are rife with this kind of scheming, and they have to be, because whenever wealth is seized by force, there is a battle among the looters over how to divide the spoils.

Of course, the Democrats campaigned in 2006 and 2008 by promising "transparency" and railing against a "culture of corruption." But they just can't help themselves because big government is the culture of corruption. Every time private money is seized or diverted by the government, it sets off a mad scramble in which every pressure group is afraid of being on the losing end. In the cannibalistic jargon of Washington, if you're not on the table, you're on the menu. And there is no honest way to resolve these disputes because everyone has an equally legitimate claim to the looted wealth—which is to say, none at all. So principles don't apply, and it's all just unscrupulous horse-trading.

The Cornhusker Kickback is a very visible reminder of this fact, which is why it has become the emblem of this bill. In one action, Senator Nelson and Majority Leader Reid have managed to bring the entire United States Congress into disrepute—and this is sinking the prospects for final passage of the health care bill.

To paraphrase Churchill, the Democrats in Congress had to choose between legislative defeat and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will get defeat.

Robert Tracinski is editor of The Tracinski Letter and a contributor to RealClearMarkets.

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