There are times when politics approaches the sublime level of art, where the sheer audaciousness and breathtaking arrogance of the players, along with the elegance of their schemes, achieves the same effect that one gets while gazing on the Pietà or watching Pulp Fiction. The shortening of breath, the quickening of the heartbeat — responses to the joy in recognizing the awesome majesty in the clever ways the greatest politicians can separate the taxpayer from his hard earned coin or simply pull the wool over his eyes while he is being fleeced.
Is this a great country, or what?
That’s the feeling I got while observing Harry Reid and the Democrats as they attempted the most brazen and shameless legislative switcheroo in quite some time.
Yes, it’s the “doc fix” or, more prosaically, the “big ugly bribe” that the American Medical Association eagerly grasped with both gloved hands and sold their principles for a little more cash when treating Medicare patients.
The story, as it broke in The Hill, is that a secret meeting took place last week between Reid, Max Baucus, Chris Dodd, a couple of White House aides (including Rahm Emanuel), and representatives of the AMA and other doctors groups. At the meeting, the majority leader offered to restore cuts in Medicare payments to doctors that were mandated by a 1997 law that was supposed to reform Medicare. Never mind that Medicare is going to go broke and that those cuts were designed to help forestall that unhappy happenstance.
Problem: Those cuts were already figured in to the health care reform bills moving their way through Congress with the lightening speed of a three-toed sloth making its way to the ground for breakfast only to alight around dinner time. The cuts were counted as “savings” in order to fulfill the president’s pledge not to add “one dime” to the deficit when passing health care reform.
No worries, says Fast Harry. And he proceeded to make an offer to the docs that they simply couldn’t refuse.
We’ll restore those cuts in a jiffy, says Harry. All you have to do is drop your longstanding opposition to national health care and we can do “the bus-i-ness.” The doctors present must have thought they died and went to heaven. This kind of gift doesn’t come along every day on Capitol Hill — well, almost every day, but who’s keeping track? Needless to say, they agreed to sell their souls for considerably more than thirty pieces of silver.
And to top off this fantastically outrageous and exquisitely artistic scheme, the Democrats would restore the doc cuts by bringing the bill to the floor as a “standalone.” In other words, despite the fact that the Democratic reform bills had all included the Medicare cuts in their “savings,” and thus remained true blue to the president’s promise not to add to the deficit, Harry was going to make the president out a liar anyway by sending the bill to repeal the cuts to the floor while “forgetting” to bring along the rest of the health care reform measure.
If it were Harry Reid’s money that the Democrats were using, I wouldn’t care so much. But I don’t think Harry and all the casinos in Nevada have the $247 billion in payola that the doctors would would have got for switching sides in the reform debate. So it would be taxpayers funding this hustle while Medicare — with costs careening out of control — got harder to save from a catastrophe that would bankrupt us all.
But this is only half the story. We’re only viewing the upper torso of Michelangelo’s David. Now we’re getting to the good bits. (Note: the following may be NSFW or not safe for those with high blood pressure and at risk of heart attack.)
When confronted by angry Republicans over this bit of budgetary legerdemain, the Democrats channeled Mr. Orwell:
The sponsor of the doc fix, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), seemed unconcerned that the fix had put the party in one. “It really is about honest budgeting,” she said at a news conference Tuesday morning. On one side of her stood the AMA president. On the other side was a poster framed by a flag. One of its bullet points: “Honest budgeting.”
Honestly? A decade ago, Congress passed legislation designed to limit health-care costs by slowing the growth of Medicare payments to doctors. Each year, Congress passes a “patch” to prevent the cuts from taking effect. Stabenow proposed to make this system “honest” by eliminating the cuts permanently.
Medicare is hurtling toward insolvency, but Stabenow would essentially repeal past cost-cutting efforts. And even granting that it’s a good idea not to cut Medicare payments to doctors, it’s a strange interpretation of honesty to separate this $250 billion cost from the health-care bill and then claim that the other bill doesn’t raise the deficit.
“A strange interpretation of honesty”? Somehow, “lie” is too ordinary a word to use in this case. It’s like referring to Ted Bundy as a serial pickup artist.
Balloon dad is a liar. Bill Clinton is a liar. Stabenow and the Democrats have entered that exalted milieu reserved for the very biggest, the very best, the most scandalous of prevaricating dissemblers.
Burger King is naming a combo meal after them.
As it turns out, it mattered not. All the tricks, the sleight-of-hand legislating, the shell game with numbers went for naught; the standalone bill to restore the cuts failed to get the 60 votes needed to stave off a filibuster and went down to defeat 53-47.
I’m not exactly disappointed it failed, but wouldn’t you have loved to see our president signing this bill while still maintaining health care reform was on track not to add to the deficit? Even Obama’s legendary “cool” would have been sorely tested as the sheer idiocy of what he was saying hit home.
So that $247 billion remains as “savings” in the reform bills. No doubt Harry Reid and the Democrats have other rabbits they can pull out of a hat when it comes to counting expenditures as savings and finding ponies in the manure pile instead of, well, manure.
Meanwhile, it’s getting awfully thick around Capitol Hill these days, and waders appear to be making a comeback as a fashion statement.