“Conservatives Try To Pare Down Reform”
August 26, 2009, 4:00am

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Nate Carlile, Zaid Jilani, and Igor Volsky

Statement from Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta on the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy: “The progressive movement lost a hero today, and the Center for American Progress lost a dear friend. Senator Ted Kennedy served tirelessly in the Senate for the state of Massachusetts and the nation for over four decades, putting his efforts toward critical progressive issues such as education and immigration reform, fighting poverty, expanding civil rights and working to ensure health care for every American. When it came to reaching across the aisle and forging compromise and getting something done — Senator Kennedy was simply in a league of his own. This great man bridged the idealism and purpose of an earlier generation and helped usher its revival today. His memory will live on in the generation of progressives that he has inspired through the change he has brought to America. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We will miss the Senator, as will our nation.”
Conservatives have used the August recess to mount an organized opposition to President Obama’s health care reform efforts. Even as 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance coverage every single day — half a million will become uninsured while Congress is on vacation — Republicans are insisting that Democrats pare down existing reform legislation. “We need to slow down and do a little less,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee and member of the “Gang of Six” tasked with producing bipartisan health care legislation, told a town hall gathering in Pocahontas, IA, on Monday. Similarly, during an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) predicted that the bill out of the Senate Finance Committee is “going to have to be significantly less than what we’ve heard talked about.” Yesterday’s revised deficit projections have given conservatives an additional argument for paring down existing legislation. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) issued a statement arguing that the higher projections were “a flashing red light for any health care proposal that doesn’t reduce the cost of health care for Americans and their government,” and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, declared that “if the House Democrats’ unaffordable $1 trillion health care bill wasn’t dead before, it should be now.”

SMALLER IS NOT BETTER: A smaller health reform package would do little to reduce health care costs and increase access to affordable health care. As National Institutes of Health bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel points out, “[H]ealth care costs are the long-term driving force in federal and state budgets.” Health care spending makes up “$1 out of every $6 in the economy, dwarfing automobiles and all other economic segments” and represents the “single most important factor influencing the Federal Government’s long-term fiscal balance.” Health care growth rates are “simply unsustainable and are why slowing the growth in health care costs is the single most important step we can take to put the Nation on firm fiscal footing.” Scaling down legislation, however, “basically means gutting the benefits that would go to the working and middle class,” the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn points out. “In other words,” Cohn says, “it would help fulfill the fear many of these voters already have and that opponents of reform have tried hard to stoke: That reform doesn’t have much to offer the typical middle-income American.”

STEELE SCARES SENIORS: Despite the consequences of skyrocketing health care costs, Republicans continue to fearmonger about reform. On Monday, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying that Obama “and congressional Democrats are planning to raid, not aid, Medicare by cutting $500 billion from the program to fund his health-care experiment.” “These types of ‘reforms’ don’t make sense for the future of an already troubled federal program or for the services it provides that millions of Americans count on,” wrote Steele. To perpetuate the fear of Medicare cuts, the RNC released a “Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights” declaring that Medicare should not be “cut.” “We want to make sure that we are not cutting the Medicare program,” said Steele on ABC’s Good Morning America. But the $500 billion in cuts the Democrats are proposing would eliminate inefficiencies, reduce insurance company subsidies, unnecessary hospital readmissions, and lower payments that encourage overtreatment. None of the $500 billion is coming out of benefits. In fact, some of the cuts have been endorsed by the health industry and supported by Republicans — including Steele. All of the latest Republican health care plans call for eliminating Medicare “waste, fraud and abuse,” for instance, and a good number of Republicans voted for Medicare payment cuts as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Yesterday, Steele further undermined his own argument that Medicare is a sacrosanct program that must be protected by calling it “a very good example of what we should not have happen with all of our health care.” Asked to respond to Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) argument that “if you like Medicare and you don’t want to make any cuts to it, then you’re basically defending a single payer system,” Steele launched into an attack on the program, implying that it would be better if it were privatized.

REPUBLICANS REFUSE TO VOTE FOR REFORM: Senate Republicans who had previously indicated that they would be open to compromising on health care reform, are now suggesting they have closed the book on negotiations. Back in March, Grassley characterized himself as an honest negotiator, telling the Kaiser Family Foundation that “everything is on the table. … You don’t negotiate when everything is not on the table…everything’s got to be on the table if you’re negotiating in good faith.” Since then, Grassley has adopted the rhetoric of the far right, routinely referring to health care reform as a government takeover, disingenuously misrepresenting reform legislation, and even going so far as to endorse the “death panels” myth. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Grassley “vowed not to vote for an ‘imperfect'” health care bill. “Now is the time to do this right or not do it,” Grassley said. Similarly, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), who is supposedly negotiating a health care bill in the Senate Finance Committee with Grassley and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), has indicated that he disagrees with “the entire approach the Finance Committee is taking.””We do need to have health care reform,” Enzi said. “We do need to get it right. We need take the time to do it. I think the only way it will happen is we need to break it down into smaller parts than we have now and put it through one at a time.”