- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 27, 2009


President Obama claims Democrats “scored a big victory for the American people” with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s latest compromise health bill. That’s only true if you believe petty bribery and protection money are the road to useful reform.

There are scores of provisions in the 383 pages of changes Mr. Reid made to the $871 billion Senate bill that benefit only a handful of states, sometimes even a single institution. Lawmakers facing tough re-elections and those who held out their votes fared particularly well, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in pork. What Mr. Obama hailed as a victory is business as usual in a very dirty business.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, faces a tough election. He inserted $100 million in the bill at the last minute to construct a new hospital intended for the University of Connecticut. Even without the payoff, the liberal Mr. Dodd surely would have backed the bill.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, would not have. He received the most widely publicized bribe - $55 million in extra Medicaid funding for his state as payoff for being the needed 60th Democrat to back cloture. The move increased Nebraska’s take of the Medicaid slush fund it is slated to share with Vermont and Massachusetts to $100 million. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu bragged last month about securing $300 million in Medicaid funding for the Louisiana Democrat’s home state. That fortune was essential in getting her to back the bill.

Parochial, home-state spending at the expense of the nation as a whole is not the only troubling aspect of the closed-door deal making for government care.

An army of former aides to late Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and other key players in crafting the measure have successfully lobbied for changes from the start. At least 166 former congressional officials - including at least 13 former lawmakers - from nine leadership offices and five committees overseeing the legislation are now registered as Washington lobbyists for at least 338 health industry clients, according to analysis from the Chicago Tribune, Center for Responsive Politics and Northwestern University’s Medill News Service.

The industry spent $635 million lobbying over the past two years, getting a host of concessions at taxpayer expense. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main drug maker lobbying group, alone employs at least 26 former staffers and lawmakers. It struck a deal with the Baucus committee and the Obama White House to limit the industry’s financial hit to $80 billion over 10 years.

There is nothing wrong with lawmakers looking out for their home states, nor the private sector lobbying government. But the average taxpayer doesn’t have a lobbyist and relies on lawmakers to protect their interests. Democrats compromising with each other by spending more of other people’s money doesn’t sound like taxpayers were considered at all.

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