It’s easy to make deals when you’re playing with someone else’s money. Just ask Senate Democrats.
With Republicans united in opposition to the health care reform bill, Democrats could not afford to lose even one senator from their side. One Democrat could derail the process, so Majority Leader Reid started making deals. It’s not a responsible way to legislate, to say the least.
Tucked within the 2,000 pages of the health care bill are a number of special interest provisions designed to benefit individual states.
There is the so-called Louisiana Purchase, a provision that would send $300 million in federal assistance to the state. The money was included at the request of Senator Mary Landrieu, who said on the Senate floor, “I am proud to have asked for it. I am proud to have fought for it.”
Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska withheld his support for the health care bill until the last minute and secured the so-called “Cornhusker Kickback,” which would exempt Nebraska from paying for a Medicaid expansion in the state. The federal government would foot the bill, which means that taxpayers in the rest of the country would pay for Nebraska’s special treatment.
Nelson scored again when he and Michigan Senator Carl Levin won a tax exemption for certain insurers in their states. As the Politico reported, “The language was written in a way that only Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company, as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield nonprofit plans in Nebraska and Michigan, would qualify, according to a Democratic Senate aide.”
Other senators secured benefits for their states. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who threatened to vote against the Senate bill because it did not include the public option, won a $10 billion increase in funding for community health centers. There are eight such centers in Vermont.
And, according to the Associated Press, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy “negotiated $600 million in additional Medicaid benefits for his state over 10 years.” Massachusetts would receive $500 million in similar benefits.
The Senate health care bill would cut the Medicare Advantage program on which many Arizona seniors rely. Because of these cuts, seniors across the country would lose their current health coverage — but not in Florida. That’s because Florida Senator Bill Nelson inserted language into the bill that would shield Floridians who rely on Medicare Advantage from changes to their plan.
All of these deals cost taxpayers and confer benefits on select states using everyone else’s money. Should an Arizonan who has lost his Medicare Advantage plan have his tax dollars support a special deal that allows a Floridian to keep his Medicare Advantage plan?
Legislators shouldn’t promote a bill as good for the country and then try to exempt their constituents from it. With that kind of posturing going on in Washington, it is no wonder that Americans are so mad about the health care bill.
President Obama said that “compromise is part of the process” with regard to the writing of the Senate bill. Doling out favors to individual senators to win votes isn’t compromise, however, and it certainly isn’t the right way to craft a bill that will forever change the health care system in our country.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his website at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl.