On March 5th of last year, firefighter Travis Ulerick, of Dublin, Indiana, introduced President Barack Obama at a White House summit on health care. Upon hearing the first rumblings of dissent about the President’s plan, Ulerick tells USA Today he thought at the time: “I definitely think it’s going to have to be a huge consensus.” It’s now 12 months later, and the only consensus that exists among the American people is strong opposition to the President’s health care plan.
The White House, however, is now completely uninterested in establishing a consensus for their health care plan before they jam it through Congress. Today, in a speech from the White House, President Barack Obama will urge Congress to move swiftly to pass his health care plan by implementing a legislative tactic that can be used to pass legislation that has failed to gain broad support among the American people. It’s known as reconciliation.
Reconciliation has been used in the past, but only for procedural reasons, not because the underlying policy change was unable to muster 60-vote support. So, for example, the 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Bill Clinton was passed through reconciliation, but it also ended up getting 78 votes in the Senate (28 of them from Democrats). President Ronald Reagan also passed seven bills through reconciliation, but every single one of those bills passed through a Democratically-controlled House and won Senate votes from both parties. Never has reconciliation been used to pass any bill on purely partisan lines.
In an attempt to provide some political cover for his nakedly-partisan health care push, President Obama released a letter yesterday identifying “four policy priorities” that “I am exploring.” Specifically he is “open” to: 1) random undercover investigations of health care providers that receive reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid; 2) $50 million in cash for states that reform medical malpractice laws in ways the White House approves of; 3) increased spending on Medicaid; and 4) language that clearly allows Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to qualify as health insurance.
The White House has not yet released any legislative language for any of these “policy priorities.” In fact, his letter does not even promise that whatever legislation the White House does eventually offer will contain language on each of these issues. He only says he is “exploring” the issues. This is beyond a sham of bipartisanship. Details matter. The American people must be allowed to see real legislative language and they must be allowed the time to read and comment on it before any votes are taken.
Most importantly, simply adding so-called conservative ideas to the bill does not change the fundamental direction of the proposal. The bills before Congress, including the President’s new additions, would still result in a massive shift of power over health care financing and delivery of care to Washington politicians and bureaucrats. The public has spoken, and it does not want a federal take over of health care.
Julia Denton of Yorktown, Virginia, another of the Obama administration’s hand-picked March 5 health summit attendees, tells USA Today: “The legislation as proposed is so long and tough to read that people are afraid of it. Health care is such a highly personal issue. I cannot see how anyone will win if unpopular reforms are forced through over vigorous opposition.” Denton is 100% correct. The American people should not have unpopular health care reform forced down their throats in the face of strong bipartisan opposition. At a bare minimum they should have the opportunity to see actual legislation from the White House and be allowed to speak to their members about it while they are home in their districts over Easter break.
Conservatives should continue to press the Administration and leaders in Congress for bipartisan solutions that are based on elements of common ground, including letting states take the lead on health reform, tackling the tax treatment of health insurance, sensible insurance market reforms, and an honest commitment to fixing existing health care programs that the government already controls.
For real bipartisanship to work, the President must set aside the current proposals that are based on consolidating power over health care in Washington and instead embrace solutions that would give individuals and families more control over health care dollars and decisions. Simply adjusting the magnitude of the existing proposals or adding so-called conservative provisions does not change this fundamental direction.
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