By Buck McKeon, Member of Congress
Over the past year our country has become fully engaged in the health care reform debate. This is a debate America needed to have. But instead of a bipartisan approach that involves American public input, Democrats are trying to finagle a highly partisan bill through Congress. Twelve months on and the American people crying "foul" has fallen on deaf ears. It is trickery of the worst kind.
Let's take a snapshot of the chaotic health care mess we have at the current time. Speaker Pelosi, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and Presidential Senior Advisor David Axelrod attest that they have the votes to pass the widely despised government takeover of health care. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn both sound less confident.
In truth, if Democrats had the votes to pass a bill, they would have already done so, and they would allow the bill to be voted on with a straight up or down vote. Instead, they have resorted to dangerously bending the legislative rules, to "deem" the Senate health care bill as passed by the House - without an actual vote - and move a fast-tracked reconciliation "fix-it" package through the House.
Not only do Democrats not have the votes to pass a reform bill through regular order, they still don't have the votes they need to pass it through "reconciliation," therefore, they have resorted to seedy backroom deals, political payoffs, and kickbacks. Essentially, Democrat rank-and-file members should step up quickly and get what they want, because their leaders are letting them name the price for a yes vote.
For example, already included in the last Senate version was $300 million in additional Medicaid money for the state of Louisiana, a $100 million hospital grant program for Connecticut, an increase in Medicaid funding for Nebraska, carve-outs for Florida seniors only, and tax increases on "Cadillac" health plans, with a waiver specifically for union members who often work side-by-side with non-union members.
So that means Democrats are using taxpayer dollars to create "deal-sweeteners." What will Americans get for the political favors being paid for with their hard-earned money? Americans will get taxpayer-funded abortions, $500 billion in tax hikes that will result in job losses, premium increases as high as 13%, and $500 billion in cuts to Medicare. We all know that this isn't what the American people want, which is why so many Democrats are struggling with support for this health care cramdown. True public servants should listen to their constituents, and our constituents don't want this bill. As reported by the Politico last week, Speaker Pelosi says she wants to make the whole process as quick and politically painless as possible.
Beside the question of mere constitutionality of the procedural schemes being used to move a bill, there are a number of items currently keeping Speaker Pelosi from hitting the magic number of 216 votes needed for passage. As reported by Patrick O'Connor from Politico on March 15, abortion, bending House rules, the Senate parliamentarian's decision, House-Senate distrust, and immigration are all still issues with which House Democrats are grappling. If Democrats choose to ignore the will of the people, the hope is any one of these issues may prevent a highly controversial, partisan takeover bill from making its way to the President's desk.
I continue to stress that reform is greatly needed. Having visited with doctors throughout my district, I understand that we need to address America's health care system to lower costs and improve access to quality care. We need tort reform and to allow for competition across state lines for insurance coverage. Republicans have brought every cost-saving proposal - in some cases, bound and personally handed to the President - to Democrats for inclusion in a reform package, yet Democrats have chosen to go it alone, without bipartisan support and without the support of the American people.
Health care makes up one-sixth of the American economy. This certainly isn't a time to be fooling around, buying off votes, and recklessly passing shell bills into law that will cost over a trillion dollars. If this bill were the panacea the Majority claims it is, then why not allow a straight up or down vote? Democrats won't allow a real vote, because it's a bad bill, and this attempt to fool the American people will not work.
Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, a Republican, represents the 25th District of California in the U.S. Congress. He is the leading Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, a senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, and a member of the House GOP Health Care Solutions Group