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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

« Why Does the Public Oppose ObamaCare? | HorseRaceBlog Home Page | The Democrats' Health Care Dilemma »

Welcome to the New Gilded Age

After months of deliberation, negotiation, and cogitation - the Democratic wise men of the United States Senate have resolved that the nation needs health care reform so badly, this awful compromised reform bill must be passed.


Let's review the core elements of this compromised product. There are a host of reforms designed to expand the number of people who can acquire health insurance. Because this is supposed to raise premiums, there will be an individual mandate to guarantee that all Americans acquire insurance. This is supposed to lower premiums. But how to coerce Americans to buy health insurance if they don't want to? There are tax penalties. Meanwhile, to help Americans pay for this mandate, the government will be offering subsidies to those who qualify.

What's not in it? A public option or an expansion of Medicare. This means that the United States government will require citizens to contract with private corporations as a condition of citizenship - whether they want to or not. If they don't, the feds will levy a tax on them, the revenues of which will ultimately find their way to the insurance companies.

Let's not forget the process that got us here. All year, the Democrats have talked about some form of public option. Besides the Senate Finance Committee bill - which nobody except Max Baucus really liked - the plan was always to link an individual mandate with some sort of public option. Then, in an instant, simply to win the vote of Joe Lieberman, the Senate leadership drops the public option element. There was no talk about whether what was left was perverse, whether this is a compromise in the worst sense of the word. And now, there is a push to get the bill passed before Christmas, not because that's best for the country - but because the startlingly irresponsible 44th President correctly intuits that health care is pushing his numbers down, and he wants to move on to talk about jobs.

Amazingly, this bill has produced the broadest political coalition I have seen in my lifetime. Peruse the liberal blogs and you'll discover widespread disgust at this corporate boon. Cruise over to the conservative sites, and you'll encounter much the same thing. Then, check out the opinion polls and you'll find a mass public that is staunchly opposed to this bill.

And yet Democrats in the Senate have decided that all of us - left, right, and center - are wrong. We need this bill.

Welcome to the new gilded age. The original hope behind the 17th Amendment - the direct election of senators - was to get the upper chamber out of the pocket of mega-industries that could buy and sell senators. So much for that, I suppose. This has to be one of the biggest giveaways to corporate interests in the nation's history.

Andrew Jackson must be spinning in his grave this evening. The Democratic Party was founded in opposition to "corrupt bargains" among entrenched interests that Democrats believed were undermining the will of the people. Today, such interests are called "stakeholders." They are to be wooed, bought off, and neutralized. Can't afford a K Street lobbyist? Sorry, you're not a stakeholder. Don't like this bill? Eh...you don't know what's good for you. You're either a tea-bagging moron or a gutless liberal who will fold sooner or later.

Like I said, Jackson must be spinning.

I wonder what FDR and LBJ would think of this, too. As we all know, the Democrats plan to cut nearly $500 billion from Medicare to fund this monstrosity. Medicare is a single-payer system for seniors. It's the ultimate "public option," a product of Johnson expanding Roosevelt's social insurance concept to medical care for the elderly. Today's Democrats plan to reduce its revenues by $500 billion to pay for subsidies that will ultimately find their way over to...private insurance companies.

Many Democrats on Capitol Hill have talked themselves into the absurd notion that this is better than doing nothing. That kind of myopia is a typical symptom of the Swamp Fever, so I'm not surprised. Still, they had better look out. Above all, they are grossly underestimating the wisdom of the American people, and they are ignoring the power that the Constitution grants them. This is a grave error. When the people catch wind of the full scope of this bill, and they will, there will be hell to pay. The public has been known to vote against big business and big government. Somehow, this compromised bill manages to deliver both - big government and big business, joined together, with the little guy forced to participate.

If the Democrats pass this bill, the Republicans will pound them relentlessly and mercilessly in next year's midterm campaign. All across the country right now, would-be Republican candidates can sense that this is their chance finally to get into Congress. They're already starting to toss their hats into the ring. Many more will follow because they know what the public thinks of this. They know that they'll find plenty of donors to bankroll those ads talking about the individual mandate, the insurance company giveaways funded by Medicare cuts, the victory for special interests, and how it all happened behind closed doors. And they know what kind of effect these ads are going to have.

Democrats were bound to lose seats next year because it is a midterm and they're in charge. They were bound to lose extra seats because it's a recession. But if they pass this bill, God help them. The people sure as hell won't.

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-Jay Cost