(Newt Gingrich) – The Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate reportedly are planning on finalizing their differing health care “reform” bills in secret.
That’s right. They’re kicking out the C-SPAN cameras and planning on huddling behind closed doors with a few Obama Administration power brokers to transform the American health care system.
Not that anyone should be surprised by this, of course. “Secret” and “corrupt” are the two words that best describe the process by which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid produced his trillion-dollar government takeover of our health care system.
A First Look At Harry Reid’s Corrupt Christmas Present
The American people didn’t have much of a chance to get a good look at Senator Reid’s corrupt Christmas present before it was passed. The legislation would dramatically expand the power and scope of the federal government — and fail to fix any of the problems we face.
That continues the course of action that Democrats have taken this entire year on health reform. Every bill that has been introduced, from the House Tri-Committee bill this summer to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee to Harry Reid’s latest bill, the recipe is the same: More regulation, higher taxes, bigger government, less control for you.
Here are just a few of the Reid bill’s details:
• 2,409 pages (by comparison, the legislation that created Social Security was just 82 pages long)
• $518 billion in tax increases (Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office)
• $466 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid (CBO)
• Many costs of the legislation won’t begin until 2014, but taxes will be imposed immediately (CBO)
• Federal outlays for health care would increase by about $200 billion between 2010-2019 (CBO)
• $26 billion of unfunded mandates to states over the next 10 years that will likely result in higher taxes (CBO)
• Would increase non-group premiums by $300 per individual and $2,100 per family (CBO)
• Up to 10 million people will lose their current health insurance coverage under the bill (CBO)
• Adds a 10% tax on indoor tanning services (Section 10907)
No Christmas Miracle, Just a Lot of Washington Payoffs
As I mentioned before, Harry Reid didn’t need a Christmas miracle to pass this massive bill. Instead he used an approach more appropriate for “The Sopranos” than for the nation’s capital: payoffs. There may not have been any smoke-filled rooms, but there were plenty of shady deals.
The most egregious were those for Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. He was the final holdout. Without his support, the bill would have been stopped. But Ben buckled under the pressure.
He was particularly pliable on his demands that no federal funding go to cover abortions. Instead he accepted a watered down compromise that allows individual states to prohibit plans that cover abortion services — a compromise that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and numerous pro-life groups denounced as paving the way for federally funded abortions.
The Nebraska Exemption to Higher Medicaid Costs
But when Harry Reid needed his vote, Sen. Nelson took the money and ran — $100 million to be exact. Nebraska will be the only state in the country where the full costs of Medicaid expansion will be covered by the federal government. Specialty hospitals in Nebraska will be exempted from new regulations. The state’s largest insurers will be shielded from new regulations. Here are the details of the Nebraska Exemption:
• Federal government fully finances Medicaid expansion for two years and then increases its matching funds (known as FMAP) thereafter to 100% — in perpetuity (Section 10201), totaling about $100 million
• Reid bill specifically identifies Nebraska for higher federal matching funds, fully funding its expansion for an additional year
• Carve outs for physician-owned hospitals in Nebraska
• Physician self-referral exemptions within Nebraska
• Nelson’s abortion compromise: a state may elect to prohibit abortion coverage in qualified health plans offered through an exchange if the state enacts a law to prohibit it
• Shields two Nebraska insurers from taxes that other plans will pay: Mutual of Omaha and Blue Cross/Blue Shield (language crafted so it only affects these two in Nebraska)
The Roll Call of Shame: Senator Nelson Wasn’t the Only Senator Bought Off
But Sen. Nelson wasn’t the only senator to be bought off by Majority Leader Reid. More than a dozen other states received special goodies, including:
$300 million in additional Medicaid funding
2.2% FMAP increase for 6 years for Vermont Medicaid program
$600 million in additional Medicaid funding (CBO)
0.5% FMAP increase for 3 years for their entire program
$500 million in additional Medicaid funding (CBO)
Restores DSH funding eliminated in the past to expand Medicaid eligibility
Adjusts payments to hospitals according to local wage levels, which when adjusted aids Michigan
Exemption for non-profit insurers in the state from large excise tax
$100 million earmark for construction of a University of Connecticut hospital
Medicare coverage for individuals exposed to environmental health hazards in or around the geographic area of Libby, Mont., subject to an emergency declaration as of 6/17/09
• South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana
Adds 1% hospital wage index
Adds 1% practice index for physicians to cover geographic cost differences
A Massive Bill, Compiled in Secret and Negotiated Through Corruption, Will Now Be Finalized in Secret
And so it has come to this: A massive bill, compiled in secret, negotiated through corruption, and passed by a party-line vote, will now be finalized in secret.
Americans deserved better for Christmas.
Reports are that House and Senate Democrats will go around the normal legislative process of a formal, transparent conference to iron out their differences. (This chart written by Democratic staffers provides a good summary of both bills, though it also includes a lot of spin.) But rather than a representative group of lawmakers from each chamber negotiating in good faith in the open, House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Leader Reid, and White House officials are planning to do the work themselves, locking out the vast majority of lawmakers — from both parties.
If these secret proceedings are not stopped, the American people, through our representatives in Congress, will be presented with a done deal. If 2009 is any guide, the final vote will then be called before many members of Congress or the public has a chance to read, understand, and debate the details of the final bill. And in the end, the American people will be left to speculate as to the corrupt bargains that were required to see this monstrosity through to final passage.
Turn on the C-SPAN Cameras
But this does not have to be the outcome. Americans do not want our lawmaking to be done in secret. In 2008, then-candidate Obama condemned “negotiating behind closed doors” and instead called for “bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are, because part of what we have to do is enlist the American people in this process.”
In this spirit of candidate Obama, C-SPAN Chairman Brian Lamb asked congressional leaders this week to let the American people have a seat at the table where decisions affecting every single American will be made and to allow C-SPAN to cover the health care negotiations among Senate, House, and White House representatives.
President Obama was right in 2008 as a candidate. Brian Lamb is right today. These health care negotiations should be held in the open and C-SPAN should be allowed to provide coverage so that all Americans can see how health legislation will affect their lives.
Open, honest government should be an American birthright. Joining Brian Lamb in requesting our elected leaders to live up to a minimum standard of openness and honesty is one New Year’s resolution that every American can agree on.
(Mr. Gingrich is a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Represenatives)