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December 28, 2009

Midnight Voting

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The United States Senate, arguably one of the most revered and venerated deliberative bodies in the world, is holding midnight voting sessions on a bill that will impact a major share of the national economy.


Why, you ask? Is it a fear that they’ll all turn into pumpkins if they haven’t voted when the 12th bells tolls?


A nationally recognized pundit speculated that the reason the votes are occurring at 2:00 A.M., when no normal human being would pay attention, is because the sense of national urgency to pass meaningful healthcare reform is so prevalent throughout the nation.


Here’s what prevalence means. A quick look at weekly polling data suggests that Americans may not be source of the pressure on the Congress to pass a bill.


Poll Source                               For The Obama Plan     Against the Obama Plan           

Quinnipiac                                            36                                            53

NBC/WSJ                                             32                                            47

CNN/Opinion Research                         42                                            56

ABC/Wash. Post                                   44                                            51

Fox News                                             34                                            57


So, only a fool would claim some national mandate to pass flawed legislation that really does not reform the delivery of healthcare services in our nation OR provide adequate cost controls to reign in the order of magnitude annual increases in insurance premiums.


The bill rushed to a vote in the Senate, and the companion bill awaiting a conference committee from the House of Representatives, are so fundamentally different from one another that it isn’t even clear to people being polled what they are either for or against.


The House bill includes the ability for Americans to purchase a health plan that is essentially owned by the federal government. Progressives have said all along that the only way to “control” insurance companies is to create a government-run competitor to free market health plans.


Two problems with this tortured logic. First, in many states, the health insurance companies are NOT free market, private sector companies. They are non-profit corporations that are HEAVILY regulated by the states in which they operate. Second, the whole idea behind this public and private sector competition is that the government can run health insurance more effectively.


How is that claim being made by anyone? Is there any evidence, anywhere, that a government-run operation is either efficient or effective? Medicare is running a huge deficit, Social Security teeters on the brink of insolvency, the Veterans Administration is known for running patients away from their hospitals and care centers due to quality-of-care concerns.


The most “important” reforms, at least according to the Democratic Party leaders in the House and Senate, won’t even be noticed by most Americans until after the next presidential election. How’s that for politics trumping policy? Could it be that the Obama Administration and congressional leaders fear what will happen once the electorate starts to feel cuts in Medicare services, which will have to occur in order to cover the almost $1 trillion cost of these bills?


The nature of this debate in the U.S. Senate is an embarrassment, simply put. Senators have exchanged their vote to end debate for promises to exempt their states from the most harmful effects of this legislation. That’s right, a group of moderate Democratic senators were paid hush money, the promise that Medicare cuts would not be felt in their states if they helped cut off floor debate on the bill.


If you happen to be represented by these senators and place the interests of your state ahead of the nation, you’ll probably be happy with what they did. If your own senators (like ours here in Maryland), were already in the bag for their team, then you gain no special advantage from their vote.


Now the scurry of rats will shift from squeezing a few recalcitrant Democrats to a handful of House and Senate leaders, aided and abetted by the Obama Administration, who will craft the conference report. That task would normally seem to present insurmountable obstacles. The two bills are so different that the production of a merged bill that can garner the needed majorities might be a battle to end all battles.


Not this time. We’re in the new reality, a world where the opinion of Americans means little to the Congress, and where the nanny-state governance model has supplanted the concept of individual responsibility.


The truth is we never needed what this bill offers us. What we needed was cost containment. We needed protection from pre-existing condition limitations. We needed our leaders to root out waste, fraud, and abuse from the Medicare system. We needed the ability for insurance companies to sell their products across state lines, removing the mandates and protections unique to each of the 50 states. We needed tort reform to protect specialty care providers from high malpractice premiums. We needed reimbursement rate enhancements to keep practitioners in business, especially in rural areas.


Two theories exist about why the Senate is voting in the middle of the night. Maybe our august senators don’t want to bother us with the boring details of the legislative process. Given that they have such a great bead on national sentiment regarding health reform, better to just do the work without worrying about unnecessary scrutiny.


Either that or the Senate is aware that most people will already be in their bedrooms, and since somebody is going to be had, better we be in the proper place for that to occur!


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