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Op-ed Placement

    A Stealth Budget Bill

    BY Matt Kibbe
    05/19/2009
    by Matt Kibbe on 5/14/09.

    President Obama is insisting on arcane procedural language tucked away in the budget resolution conference report that will dramatically expand the federal government's control over your personal health care decisions and our nation's health care system, all without a single hearing or a public debate.

    That's right, without debate. The White House hopes to include its proposed wholesale transformation of the nation's health care delivery system in the budget reconciliation process, enabling Democrats to enact a sweeping government takeover with just 51 Senate votes instead of the usual 60 votes required to authorize new programs.

    This completely subverts the legislative process and violates Mr. Obama's oft promised, but never practiced, goals of transparency, bipartisanship and openness.

    Such sweeping and permanent policy change normally would be subjected to a careful authorization process that allows for hearings, alternative proposals and public comment. This arduous process serves a purpose. We have only begun to discover the mistakes and consequent damage resulting from the hurried and corrupt process that forced through the government "stimulus" bill in February.

    The move also flies in the face of two overwhelming votes in the Senate opposing this procedural sleight of hand. The first, approved by voice vote before the April recess, was an amendment to the Senate budget resolution offered by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, requiring the support of 60 senators for any bill that would usher in government-run health care. On Thursday, the Senate voted again, 79-14, on a DeMint motion to instruct budget conferees to require 60 votes on any health care legislation that undermines an individual's choice of plan or doctor or shifts individuals from private health insurance into a government-run program.

    So why move ahead with such legislative trickery? "Virtually everyone who has been part of these discussions recognizes that reconciliation is not the preferred way to write this legislation," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said recently. "But the administration wants to have a reconciliation instruction as an insurance policy." Insurance, that is, against public opposition when the details of government-run health care finally see the light of day.

    After all, grass-roots opposition killed the last attempt to uproot our health care system in 1994, when activists dogged first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on her national bus tour, the now infamous "Health Care Express." Grass-roots opposition ultimately killed HillaryCare, as embattled legislators opted to listen to their constituents instead of the wishes of the White House.

    And that's exactly what Mr. Obama fears: The American people might reject his grand health care reboot. By most accounts, the administration has been caught off-guard by rising opposition to its economic policies. Senior White House adviser David Axelrod, when questioned about the approximately 1 million Americans who showed up at rallies across the country on April 15, referred to the "tea party" protesters as "an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that's unhealthy."

    Was he channeling King George III, or what? The underreported remark reflected remarkable disdain for any publicly stated dissent from the Obama administration's aggressive big-government agenda. The usually taciturn Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, went so far as to compare Mr. Obama's strong-arm tactics to stifle public debate on health care reform with those of an infamous Venezuelan dictator. "I can understand shaking Hugo Chavez's hand, but I can't understand embracing his politics ... cutting down the minority," he said.

    Americans would do well to be skeptical about inherent problems with government-rationed health care services. The federal government is already the dominant purchaser of health care services in the United States, primarily through Medicare and Medicaid.

    A recent New York Times article ("Shortage of Doctors an Obstacle to Obama Goals," by Robert Pear) unwittingly describes the growing distortions and de facto rationing caused by Medicare, with various industry lobbyists jockeying for advantage in the reimbursement-formularies game.

    Specifically, Medicare has created a shortage by underpaying primary care physicians, rationing access to care. My personal favorite line in the article comes from Dr. Atul Grover, chief lobbyist for the Association of American Medical Colleges: "We have to increase spending to save money."

    Now imagine a world where all Americans are herded into Medicare - a future where infinite demand for free services, skyrocketing costs, politically determined health priorities under a global budget, and some grey-suited Soviet with a clipboard determine whether the medical procedure you need to live is worth the cost to the Treasury.

    A cancer diagnosis used to trigger a frantic search for the best doctor in his or her field. Under ObamaCare, you might be better off with a fixer - a well-connected lobbyist to get you through the process of obtaining acceptable treatment.

    Matt Kibbe is president of FreedomWorks Foundation.