The Magazine

The Pelosi Plan

... and the Swine Flu Democrats.

Nov 9, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 08 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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In 1993, a newly elected Democratic president and a Democratic Congress pushed through a tax increase on a party-line vote. The next year Democrats lost control of Congress, with House Speaker Tom Foley defeated in his reelection bid and the Senate seat of retiring majority leader George Mitchell going Republican.

In 1995, the newly elected Republican Congress tried to reduce the rate of growth of Medicare. The proposal was pilloried by the Clinton White House as drastic and unconscionable. The bill did not become law, the Gingrich revolution came to a screeching halt, and Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996, defeating Bob Dole, who, Clinton tirelessly pointed out, had attempted to bring about those Medicare cuts in collusion with Newt Gingrich.

Politicians aren't altogether stupid. No president or congressional majority has tried to raise taxes since 1993. No president or congressional majority has tried to slash Medicare since 1995.

Until now. With Barack Obama as her front man, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi--the real power in the Democratic party--has gone Clinton and Gingrich one better. Clinton tried to hike taxes. Gingrich sought to cut Medicare. Pelosi wants to do both at once. This is quite a feat: She's combined the most unpopular Democratic and Republican proposals of the last generation in one piece of legislation.

And her timing is impeccable. Pelosi has decided to raise taxes and discourage employment just as joblessness approaches 10 percent. She's decided to cut Medicare reimbursements just as seniors' retirement accounts have shrunk. She's decided to advance a huge spending bill just as the deficit is at historic highs. She's decided to insist on federal funding of abortion just as the issue seems to have reached some sustainable middle ground. And she's decided to put forward a 2,000-page piece of legislation with a mind-boggling array of scary instances of bureaucratic coercion and farcical examples of nanny-state liberalism--all nuggets of political gold for Republicans--at a time when the public is sick of statist overreaching and big-government meddling.

This is the Pelosi Plan to wreck our health care system and--the bright side!--the Democratic majority along with it. This week we'll see whether enough of her fellow House Democrats intervene to prevent her from devastating their party. There will be no Republican votes for the Pelosi Plan of tax hikes and Medicare cuts. Will there be enough Democratic resistors so the bill is either withdrawn or defeated?

It's hard to say at this point. The arm-twisting and palm-greasing haven't yet produced enough Democrats to put the Pelosi Plan over the top. The substantive case against various versions of the legislation made for months by an army of nonpartisan experts and wonks has had an effect. The state of the American economy and the federal budget gives sane Democrats pause as they consider enacting a sprawling new entitlement. And as Americans read the legislation over the next week, they'll find so much that is ill-considered, cumbersome, deceptive, and house-of-cards-like that it all just may collapse of its own weight.

Or it may collapse because of swine flu.

After all, we're seeing a big government health care program in operation right now--the Obama administration's effort to deal with the swine flu problem. No, come to think of it, it's now the swine flu emergency. Last week, President Obama so legally designated it. How's that test case in government-run emergency care going?

Turn on your local news to find out. You'll see false reassurances, broken promises, rationing which doesn't provide the promised rations, queues lengthening while supplies run out, and lots of bureaucrats explaining just why things aren't working quite as their centrally planned plans had planned.

The swine flu emergency is a foretaste of life under the Pelosi Plan. Surely this spectacle, happening in real time before us, will give even more Democrats pause. Do they really want to be known as the Swine Flu Democrats?

I suspect that late this week, at least 40 House Democrats will heed the wishes of the American people and refuse to rubberstamp the Pelosi Plan. And once it has been relegated to the dustbin of history, sensible members of Congress from both sides of the aisle will get together to pass reasonable, incremental health care reforms.

--William Kristol