Democrats ditch the details to focus on power 

In the two major policy initiatives of the president and the majority party -- universal health insurance and a limit on carbon emissions -- details do not matter.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is producing the legislative equivalent of a hobo stew as he tries to wring out the final few votes for the president's health plan. Whatever ideas Democrats have had on health care over the last 30 years are going in the pot.

And it doesn't particularly matter if the flavors don't match.

Reid's plan would cut Medicare by half-a-trillion dollars but also offer Medicare benefits to tens of millions more Americans. But that obvious contradiction creates no cognitive dissonance if the specifics of the bill don't matter.

Doctors and senior citizens cry out, saying the move is guaranteed to damage the care that older Americans receive. Budget hawks throw up their hands at a patently irresponsible funding mechanism. Public support pushes closer and closer to one third of the electorate.

No matter.

Reid is only trying to get to 60 "yea" votes. Whether or not what is created by those votes actually works is something to be sorted out later -- say after the elections of 2010 and 2012.

It was the same in the House this summer when Democrats squeezed through a global warming bill so reviled by environmentalists that they joined forces with climate skeptics to make sure it was dead on arrival in the Senate.

Instead of cracking down on emissions, Nancy Pelosi's global warming bill would have rewarded politically potent polluters, punished those out of favor with the majority, and passed costs on to middle-class Americans.

Just as Reid is doing now, the House speaker ignored the details and pushed her members into a bill that no conscientious House member could have supported without nearly coercive pressure.

But whether or not the carbon cap actually reduces carbon or if health care reform actually makes health care better isn't the point.

Some of the motivation for pushing so hard on such malformed legislation is political. Reid must shed himself of the health legislation as quickly as possible and get back to Nevada where his re-election prospects in 2010 look grim.

Nevadans reflect the national attitude about the plan: majority opposition built around an intense core group of critics and tepid minority support. The longer this process drags on, the worse for Reid.

But the reason politically safe Democrats are giving Reid's latest concoction a big thumbs up is that it doesn't matter a bit whether the resulting bill actually works. The point is to establish once and for all that the health of every American is the responsibility of the federal government.

After generation of nibbling around the edges, the president's health care push has given the Left the chance to expand the definition of American rights to include health insurance, and thereby expand the authority of the government to guarantee that new right.

It's not about bending the cost curve or increasing competition or covering the uninsured. It's about expanding Washington's portfolio.

The crummy specifics of Reid's bill can be worked and reworked for generations to come, but if Democrats do not assert federal primacy over health care right now liberals fear that they may never have the chance to do it again.

The same is true for the Pelosi global warming bill.

Years from now, some other speaker can figure out how to explain why carbon emissions haven't really gone down or what to do about rolling brownouts and sky-high utility bills.

But with Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate and Barack Obama in the White House, the important thing for Pelosi was to claim federal dominion over all the energy used in the United States.

In his latest remarks on the economy, President Obama complained bitterly about the Republican Party. He blamed the GOP for the deficit, the state of the economy, and the acrid political atmosphere.

No doubt, wild spending and bubble-friendly economic policies during the last period of Republican control helped create the mire that currently binds the wheels of progress. But what we were actually hearing from the president was a rationalization.

Obama has said for a year that he did not favor big government or deficit spending, but that extraordinary circumstances demanded extraordinary federal actions.

What we've seen from Democrats on health care and the suggests that the motif in Washington today is power, not pragmatism.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@dcexaminer.com.

About The Author

Chris Stirewalt

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Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and ExaminerPolitics.com in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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