The Baucus Betrayal Print
By Sam Batkins
Thursday, October 15 2009
If it hadn’t done so already, the health care debate has shifted from an effort to “bend the cost curve downward” to how much can the White House and Congressional Democrats get away with in their attempts to hand over 16% of the U.S. economy to the federal government.

President Ronald Reagan famously quipped, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I'm from the government and I'm here to help.’”  So it goes with health care reform.

This week, the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-9 to pass the so-called Baucus Bill, the latest iteration of ObamaCare in what is becoming a long list of Congressional attempts to reform the nation’s health care system.  Like its predecessors, the Baucus Bill is filled will excessive tax increases, government mandates and massive federal spending obligations, while leaving tens of millions uninsured.  Not to mention that for the first time in American history, the legislation forces every American to purchase government-approved health care or pay a fine.  And this is supposed to be the “moderate” approach to “reform?”

Fortunately for patients, doctors and taxpayers, the Baucus Bill will never see the light of day in the full House and Senate.  Unfortunately for patients, doctors and taxpayers, however, it will serve as the foundation from which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, together with the White House and a few other Congressional liberals, will draft yet another version of “reform,” sure to be even more expensive and more intrusive. 

Taxpayers, who have been literally marching in the streets against big government and unsustainable federal spending are still ignored.  If it hadn’t done so already, the health care debate has shifted from an effort to “bend the cost curve downward” to how much can the White House and Congressional Democrats get away with in their attempts to hand over 16% of the U.S. economy to the federal government.  That much is clear to anyone with a pulse.  What is not getting enough attention, however, is that health care reform has also turned into a betrayal by President Obama of his oft-repeated promises to the American people.

For starters, President Obama took his seat in the Oval Office promising the most open and transparent government in history.  Indeed, a memo on the White House website reads, “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

To be sure, that promise was abandoned long ago, starting with the Stimulus Bill that was rammed through so quickly that even the Members of Congress who voted for it didn’t have a chance to read it.  Why should health care be any different?  Despite President Obama’s transparency pledge, he continues to support a process to reform the nation’s health care system that lacks any “transparency,” “public participation” or “collaboration.”

When an amendment was introduced by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) in the Senate Finance Committee to require that the legislative language of the Baucus Bill be posted online for 72 hours for all Americans to read prior to the Committee voting, the White House cheered when it was defeated almost along party lines.  Indeed, the Baucus Bill was voted out of committee without the legislative language even having been drafted.  And, can the President still claim with a straight face that he supports transparency while his senior staff and other members of his Administration work with Majority Leader Reid behind closed doors without any public participation or meaningful collaboration, to draft “reform” legislation that will actually be voted on by the full Senate?

Back during the 2008 Presidential campaign, candidate Obama pledged, “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase, not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”  Obama repeated that pledge at dozens of town hall meetings, during three separate presidential debates, on the Sunday morning television talk-show circuit and as President to a nationally-televised audience when he addressed a joint session of Congress.

Yet, sure enough, it was President Obama who was the first to hail the Finance Committee’s vote on the Baucus Bill as a “critical milestone,” despite the fact that it imposes over $400 billion in new taxes and fees, nearly 90 percent of which will be paid by families making less than $200,000 per year.  In fact, according to the Joint Economic Committee, more than half of the new taxes and fees in the Baucus Bill will be shouldered by families making less than $100,000 per year. 

The betrayal doesn’t stop there.  The President has stated time and time again, “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”  Yet the Baucus Bill calls for a 40% excise tax on all individual health plans in excess of $8,000.  Does anyone really believe that such a tax won’t force millions of Americans to lose their current plans as they seek to avoid the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service? Even Obama himself panned this idea when John McCain proposed it during the Presidential campaign. 

Indeed, there is a plethora of hidden mandates, fees and regulations in the Baucus Bill that make health insurance more expensive and coverage less likely for millions of Americans.  According to former Congressional Budget Office (CBO) director Dr. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a typical family of four making $54,000 per-year would pay approximately $4,800 under the Baucus Bill for health coverage.  “If they work harder and raise their income to $66,000, their cost of insurance rises by $2,800,” wrote Dr. Holtz-Eakin in The Wall Street Journal. “In other words, earning another $12,000 raises their bill by $2,800—a marginal tax rate of 23%. Double-digit increases in effective tax rates will have detrimental effects on the incentives of millions of Americans.”

Finally, President Obama has said that he won’t support health care reform legislation that adds one dime to the federal deficit.  So why does he support the inventive math and budgetary sleights of hand that are being used to mask the real overall costs of reform?  According to the CBO, the Baucus Bill will cost $829 billion over the next ten years.  Yes, those costs, according to the CBO preliminary estimate, will be offset by tax increases and major cuts in benefits for Medicare recipients.  However, that figure should be around $1.3 trillion, according to the Cato Institute, since major expenditures in the legislation don’t take place until 2013. 

Proponents of ObamaCare knew going in that the Baucus Bill had to have a price tag under $1 trillion to have any chance of success with moderates in Congress.  And so it purports to do, at CBO’s estimate of $829 billion over a decade.  However, the way the Finance Committee achieved that benchmark price was to delay the significant spending provisions of the bill to years 11, 12 and 13 to ensure a favorable CBO cost estimate, knowing full well that, as a general rule, the CBO won’t estimate costs beyond a ten-year budget window.

Another budgetary gimmick included to obfuscate the truth lies in the bill’s approach to Medicare spending.  According to Cato Fellow Michael Tanner, the Baucus Bill assumes a 21% cut to Medicare reimbursements.  Yet, that cut has been on the books (theoretically) since 2003, and in every intervening year, Congress has refused to make those cuts.  Everyone in Congress knows the Medicare cuts won’t come to fruition, but politicians in Washington are hoping that the public ignores its budgetary bait-and-switch.

“Hope and change” in which all Americans can believe is an inspiring theoretical mantra.   Under President Obama’s leadership it is just that and nothing more.  “I'm from the government and I'm here to help,” are still the “nine most terrifying words in the English language.”  Perhaps even more terrifying today than they were nearly 25 years ago.