- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Two weeks ago, while most Virginians prepared to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, Virginia’s two senators quietly broke faith with the commonwealth, voting for the Obama health care bill. In addition to adding an estimated 261,927 people to Virginia’s Medicaid rolls, Sens. James Webb and Mark Warner “charitably” committed Virginians to pick up the Medicaid tab for half-a-dozen other states.

Medicaid already is so expensive that it threatens to bust the bank in Virginia. We commit one-sixth of the state budget to Medicaid - $7 billion a year. Now Virginia’s two senators hope to impose on their own state a federally mandated increase in Medicaid enrollment of nearly 30 percent.

Skilled politicians that they are, Messrs. Webb and Warner hedged, of course: They expressed a few doubts, uttered a few platitudes about cost-cutting, and touted their “independence” and credentials as mavericks. But at the end of the day, they were right there with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, burdening Virginia with new costs we can only begin to fathom.

Mr. Webb, in particular, had the tough talk down pat - insisting that true reform must not create “a cumbersome, overly bureaucratic system.” He pledged that his vote would be contingent on eliminating proposed Medicaid cuts, excluding abortion coverage, and ensuring fair and equal treatment. His statements were refreshing - and ultimately meaningless. Mr. Webb’s Democratic colleagues ignored his objections, and he dutifully and passively submitted, voting for precisely the kind of bill he said he would reject.

Meanwhile, Mr. Warner insisted that he would “only support a final bill if convinced it will lower the deficit.” Does Virginia’s junior senator think adding 15 million people to the Medicaid rolls nationwide is a cost-cutting measure? It is a mathematical impossibility. And he knows it.

Yes, the states are in for a financial rude awakening - well, except Nebraska. Thanks to the now-infamous “Cornhusker Compromise,” the federal government will pick up Nebraska’s entire Medicaid tab in perpetuity. Sen. Ben Nelson abandoned his principled opposition to abortion coverage for the right price. Then there’s the new “Louisiana Purchase,” in which Sen. Mary Landrieu sold her vote for $300 million in federal assistance to her state.

Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his support for the bill only after extracting $10 billion for new health centers, two in his state. Vermont and Massachusetts will also receive additional Medicaid funding, while Pennsylvania, New York and Florida all won protection for their Medicare Advantage beneficiaries at a time when the program is facing cuts nationwide, including here in Virginia. Michigan’s senators, meanwhile, carved out a tax exemption for non-profit insurers in their state; that’s a tax for which similar non-profits in Virginia are still on the hook.

Outrageous, right? What did our intrepid duo in the U.S. Senate do to stand strong for the rights and interests of Virginians? Absolutely nothing. They fell right in line with Mr. Reid and the rest of the Democrats in the Senate and voted for this abomination. They required little coaxing and no incentives. Jim Webb may have been “born fighting,” but he did not hesitate to run up the white flag here.

This is not the garden-variety pork, the proverbial lard that has long greased the wheels of Congress. It is now evidently acceptable to exempt entire states from costly mandates if that is what it takes to secure one more vote. Even if it was too much to ask Messrs. Warner and Webb to break ranks with the president and their leadership over the government takeover of health care (something to which Virginians and Americans have expressed their overt opposition and which threatens to transform fundamentally the landscape of our freedoms as we know them), Virginians nonetheless had every right to expect them to reject these crass deals doled out to the states of their recalcitrant colleagues.

Messrs. Warner and Webb signed off on a plan that makes Virginia the loser coming and going. Not only must we shoulder an increased Medicaid burden, which could not come at a worse time for Virginia’s taxpayers, but all those sweetheart deals come with a price tag, and we are the ones left holding (and footing) the bill - a bill we cannot begin to pay.

Some say that the solution is to extend the same deals to all 50 states, but this would be the height of folly. Federal spending is already out of control - the national debt now stands at more than $12 trillion - and this would bloat the program to such an extent that no one, not even the president, could continue to assert the already absurd claims that the program will be revenue neutral.

There was only ever one responsible choice: to vote against this offensive bill. Messrs. Warner and Webb voted against Virginia when it counted most, and that, the people of Virginia will not forget.

Mark D. Obenshain is a Republican state senator from central Virginia.

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