Does anyone remember the TV show "Supermarket Sweep"? Contestants would compete with one another by careening through a supermarket and grabbing as many products as they could toss into a basket. The winner was the shopper whose cart carried the biggest price tag when the bell sounded.
It's a fitting image for the way Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have handled the most important domestic issue of the decade. They've raced down the health policy aisles, sweeping items off the shelves and into their legislative carts, heedless of nutritional value, taste, or cost. As items dropped out on the hairpin turns, others were shoved into the spaces. Harry Reid inserted the Medicare "buy-in" at the 11th hour and just as quickly withdrew it under pressure. No organizing principle has governed the contents of their baskets (Pelosi added and jettisoned abortion coverage), just an urgent imperative to pass something. And now, as the clock winds down, they are declaring, as a journalistic cheerleader at the Washington Post put it, "a legislative feat of epic proportions."
Actually, it was the sloppiest and most slapdash legislative process ever to accompany a major bill. The 383-page manager's amendment, making changes to the Senate bill, was released on the morning of the cloture vote. Secrecy marked Reid's handling of the bill throughout. Not only Republicans, but Democrats, too, were kept from studying the legislation. Payoffs to wavering Sens. Lieberman, Landrieu, and Nelson, on the other hand, were blatant.
The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, in concert with the White House, have bullied, bribed, and rushed their members to vote on this legislation so that the deed could be done before constituents -- who oppose it forcefully -- could confront their representatives face-to-face over the Christmas break.
The Democrats have endured bruising internecine conflicts and risked the loss of between 20 and 40 seats in 2010 (Pelosi's estimate) for this. And what have they achieved? Their goal -- a single-payer system or a glide path to one -- remains as distant as ever. Instead, they have produced (or will, after the conference committee) an enormous new $2.5 trillion octopus of federal regulation that will increase premiums, contribute to medical cost inflation, reduce quality and choice of care, and deeply politicize an aspect of life that most Americans regard as sacrosanct. Additionally, and most alarmingly, it will aggravate the already crushing debt we are accumulating.
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