- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 25, 2009

Paying for the president’s government health care takeover with gargantuan cuts in Medicare isn’t so popular with doctors. A third of them already refuse to take new Medicare patients because the program pays less than their costs. Other doctors participate only because they can make up Medicare losses by boosting prices for privately insured patients. The Democrats’ health care takeover plan, which covers more people with Medicare by lower reimbursements further, would only make problems worse.

To placate the medical establishment’s opposition to spending cuts in the health care takeover bill, the Democratic leadership in the Senate put up another bill last week to increase Medicare payments to doctors by $247 billion over 10 years. The bill was unfunded, adding $247 billion to the deficit.

So in one piece of legislation Democrats give money back to doctors and in the main health care bill they take money from doctors. Why do it that way? The answer is to keep the main health care bill “budget neutral.” It is just the ultimate budget gimmick. If they had combined the two bills, the resulting health care bill would have shown a big increase in the deficit.

However, not everyone in the Senate was willing to be part of this deception. For 13 Democratic senators, including Independent Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, all this was just too much. They couldn’t stomach the Medicare budget trickery - or at least knew their constituents would see right through it - and ended up siding with the Republicans. “I will vote for the doctor fix - when it is funded,” Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada lashed out at Republicans as having suddenly “gotten religion” and wanting to control spending. He’s right to point out the Grand Old Party’s failure to control spending when they had the levers of power, though their spending spree pales in comparison to the current Democratic splurge. Republicans had to return to their green eye-shade roots at some point, and sooner is better than later.

Regardless of Republican hypocrisy, Mr. Reid’s desire to turn this into a partisan issue falls flat. Democrats could have passed the legislation without a single Republican vote if his own party was behind it.

Despite this early skirmish, it is far too early to be optimistic about this whole process. The Congressional Budget Office budget estimates for the health care bills are a joke.

The assumption that a paltry $750 penalty will keep people from using obvious loopholes to game the system is among the CBO laugh lines. Almost all Americans will be able to save money by dropping their insurance and resubscribing once they are sick.

But there’s room for hope. Thirteen Democrats were willing to put honesty and what’s best for the American people before their short-term partisan interests. If they keep that up, health care reform is going nowhere.