by Dan Holler
With Thanksgiving and Black Friday behind them, senators are set to begin a long December of double-speak. On Nov. 2,1 all 60 senators that caucus as Democrats voted to begin debate on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) version of Obamacare. Proponents claim it would cost “just” $849 billion, even though the real ten-year price tag is approximately $2.5 trillion.
The true cost is hidden by a host of budget gimmicks, including the fact that higher taxes would start immediately but any benefits wouldn’t come for years. Meanwhile Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office Director, says the cost estimate “assume[s] that the provisions are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation.”
One of those provisions is a scheduled 23 percent cut to the reimbursement rate doctors receive from treating Medicare patients in 2011. If senators later decide (perhaps after the elections in 2010) to prevent the cuts, it would cost taxpayers nearly a quarter-trillion-dollars.
Of the 60 senators who voted to begin debate on the Reid bill, 47 have also voted to prevent a pending cut to the reimbursement rate. “The current Medicare payment system for doctors is fundamentally flawed,” Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said during an October debate. “Without action, next year, physician payments will be reduced by 21 percent.” One has to wonder why Senator Baucus and many of his colleagues would support a health reform proposal that perpetuates such a fundamental flaw.
It was the same story in the House. Of the 220 Members who voted for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) version of Obamacare, 216 voted to prevent a cut in the physician reimbursement funding. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, “If we allow that to take place, many seniors will find their doctors no longer available to treat them.” Yet, during his support for the Pelosi bill which contained a similar cut, “I want to say to our seniors: you count on Medicare, on a federal program,” Hoyer said. “We will vote to protect your access to your doctor.”
Are proponents of Obamacare serious about cutting the reimbursement rate for doctors? If so, they ought to make that clear to every doctor. If not, they should acknowledge that it is nothing more than a budget gimmick. Only then can they attempt to have an honest debate with the American people, who cannot help but wonder what else is hidden in the 2,074-page bill.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), proclaimed last Saturday’s vote to proceed to the Reid health care bill was merely a vote to begin debate. However, a recent CRS report found that between 1999 and 2008, nearly 98 percent of bills ultimately passed the Senate once “cloture on the motion to proceed” was invoked. In other words, a vote to begin debate is almost always a vote to pass the bill.
The lone exception over those ten years was the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Sixty-nine senators (39 Democrats and 30 Republicans) voted to begin debate, but just 34 senators (all Democrats) voted to end debate. Immigration reform was unique in that the massive bill imploded on the Senate floor under its own weight and amidst public outcry over the amnesty provision.
According to Rasmussen Reports, “There is no mystery to why the public opposed the [immigration] bill. In the minds of most Americans, immigration reform means reducing illegal immigration and enforcing the border. Only 16 percent believed the Senate bill would accomplish that goal.”
Interestingly, the latest Rasmussen poll on health care reform finds “only 16 percent now believe passage of the plan will lead to lower health care costs.”
Although fissures over cost, abortion and the public option have been exposed, it is too early to t