Never have so many procedural corners been cut, accounting tricks played, and sweetheart deals arranged in an effort to pass legislation so unpopular with the American people. I’m talking about the Democratic health care bill--ObamaCare--and the desperate but oh-so-clever steps taken in hopes of enacting it.
And more are planned, should the need arise. If Republican Scott Brown wins the Senate race in Massachusetts today, Democrats are talking about additional gambits to keep him from voting against ObamaCare.
One would have the current appointed senator from Massachusetts, Paul Kirk, vote for ObamaCare before Brown is seated as his elected successor. This, as Democrats must know, would clash with state law, Senate precedent, and the U.S. Constitution.
Democrats may have out-smarted themselves in Massachusetts. After Senator Teddy Kennedy died in August, they passed a bill to appoint a new senator. That senator’s term would last until the “election and qualification” of a successor--in other words, today.
Another stratagem under discussion would be to invoke “reconciliation” for ObamaCare, allowing it to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes. This would keep Republicans from conducting a filibuster that would require 60 votes to halt. The problem: reconciliation was created to deal with tax and spending bills, not sweeping changes in policy like ObamaCare.
Vice President Biden appears to prefer this method of rescuing ObamaCare. He told a Florida fundraiser that a 60-vote requirement would stand the Constitution “on its head.... No democracy has survived needing a supermajority.”
But reconciliation, should it be invoked, would be just one of the procedural ploys used by Democrats to pass the unpopular health care bill. After the Senate and House passed different versions of ObamaCare, the next step normally would be to negotiate a compromise in an open conference. Not for ObamaCare--too risky. Democrats have scrapped that because it would require more votes. Instead, they’ve been meeting behind closed doors.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid melded Democratic bills from two separate committees into one--in private. Then he rushed to pass the new measure, forcing a vote on Christmas Eve. Republicans were not involved or consulted.
For a while, President Obama and Democrats wooed Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, but gave up after offering her practically nothing of substance. Newly appointed Senator George Lemeiux of Florida, who arrived in September, wasn’t even approached to vote for ObamaCare, though he hadn’t committed himself one way or the other.
By using devious accounting, Democrats managed to do the impossible, turn ObamaCare into a bill that reduces the deficit. One trick was to collect taxes and fees for the basic program and the long-term care plan over 10 years, while actually operating the new system over fewer years. Another was to count savings from lower Medicare fees for doctors, but erase those savings elsewhere in the budget.
Some of the sweetheart deals are well-known. The Louisiana Purchase and the Cornhusker Kickback (for Nebraska) would have the taxpayers pay for new Medicaid expenses in those states but not in others.
In Florida, the deal isn’t as famous. There, seniors in three counties--all packed heavily with the elderly residents--would get to keep their Medicare Advantage (MA) benefits. Elsewhere, seniors now on MA would be out of luck. This special arrangement was made to gain the vote of a Democratic senator, as were the Louisiana and Nebraska deals.
That wasn’t all. Organized labor got the full sweetheart treatment last week. Its health care plans might face a 40 percent tax on expensive health insurance plans--only they won’t under a special deal worked out with the White House and congressional Democrats.
If ObamaCare were popular, there would be no need for skullduggery. Nor would tricks be required to pass bipartisan health care reform. But ObamaCare is partisan and unpopular everywhere, including in the bluest of blue states, Massachusetts.