This is beggar-my-nation legislating.
By Rich Lowry
December 22, 2009, 0:00 a.m.
Too bad Barack Obama hasn’t followed through on his promises of legislative transparency. Then we all could have watched Harry Reid live on C-SPAN handing an oversized Publishers Clearing House–style $100 million check to Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson.
The highest-profile Democratic hold-out on Obamacare, Nelson said last week, “My vote is not for sale.” He obviously meant that in the sense that he’d be righteously indignant at any suggestion that his vote could possibly be bought for anything less than the low nine digits.
Nelson got the feds to pick up forevermore 100 percent of the additional Medicaid spending that will be imposed on Nebraska by the bill. In stereotypically Orwellian fashion, the provision is called “Equitable Support for Certain States.” That, naturally enough, translates into special, inequitable support for three states, totaling $1.2 billion over ten years. Vermont and Massachusetts argue they are due the funds for prior expansions of Medicaid, but what’s Nebraska’s excuse?
By the standards of Washington, Nelson deserves to be named “legislator of the year,” with distinction in gross backroom dealing. His plunder perfectly encapsulates the current Democratic project in all its shameless audacity.
The Nebraskan is touted as a conservative Democrat. The Democratic leadership went out of its way to recruit Nelsonesque candidates in the 2006 and 2008 congressional races. These “majority makers” from Red States are supposed to represent the ideological diversity of the Democratic party, although they somehow always vote in numbers sufficient to enable Nancy Pelosi and Reid’s governmental adventurism.
Many of the Blue Dogs rely on a simple electoral formula: Sound moderate at election time, then vote with the liberal priorities of the national party, repeat as necessary. Obama hopes to replicate this strategy on a grand scale. He wants to pivot to portraying himself as a fierce fiscal hawk next year, despite all the debt he accumulated this year, notwithstanding all he said about fiscal restraint last year.
This is the larger dishonesty in which all the smaller subsidiary ones are embedded. Obama has maintained all along that the health bill doesn’t fund abortion. He accused those who maintained otherwise of bearing “false witness,” a deliberately fraught phrase.
Nelson’s resistance to this allegedly nonexistent abortion funding was at the core of his long-running objection to the bill. During the weekend, he signed off on a weak compromise denounced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that still allows the bill’s subsidies to go to abortion coverage. In a Christmas miracle, Nelson’s principled opposition to the abortion-funding stream vanished precisely as the $100 million check arrived.
Governors across the country have inveighed against the bill’s expansion of Medicaid because, eventually, they will be left with part of the bill. Seized with the problem, Nelson crafted a farsighted legislative compromise of the sort Daniel Webster or Henry Clay might be proud — exempt Nebraska. This is beggar-my-nation legislating, and the health-care bill is shot through with it.
The New York Times reports that the bill cracks down on doctors referring Medicare patients to hospitals in which they have a financial interest. Not everywhere, though. The bill offers an exemption for certain doctor-owned hospitals, the deadline for which Reid extended to Aug. 1, 2010, specifically to include Bellevue Medical Center — in Bellevue, Neb.
Logrolling has always been with us. As Ronald Reagan said, politics is the second-oldest profession and closely related to the first. But, in keeping with the new scale of Obama-era spending, the price tag of the payoffs has grown. If a fence-sitting Democrat didn’t get a handout of a hundred million or more, he is a rank legislative incompetent. Mary Landrieu scored $300 million in Medicaid funding for Louisiana even before crunch time arrived.
The route to 60 Senate votes went through Harry Reid’s favor factory. Democrats will pass a new $2.5 trillion entitlement out of the Senate and will disgrace themselves doing it. Witness their pliable, self-interested legislator of the year.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. © 2009 by King Features Syndicate