Rich Galen
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The Washington Press Corps, still recovering from their sobbing adoration of Barack Obama at the White House Correspondent's Dinner on Saturday night, fell over in paroxysms of idolatry when the President stood with representatives of large heath care plans in the White House the other day.

One of the smartest political writers in Washington - maybe ever - is the Washington Post's Dan Balz who writes:

"What happened at the White House this week should not be underestimated as a sign of potential, but the president is far from a victory lap on health care."

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal about the event said:

They agreed in principle to try to shave 1.5 percentage points off the growth rate of U.S. health-care costs over the next decade, about $2 trillion.

WHOA! Check Please. The health care geniuses agreed to "shave the growth rate" and that is being cheered as a victory for Barack Obama?

That is exactly the issue which led to the shutdown fight between Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton which, among other things, had the effect of dragging my butt back to Washington, DC from Dallas, Texas where I was enjoying a life completely outside of politics.

Let's hop into the WayBack Machine and set the dial to the end of the 1995 fiscal year - September 30. Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Bill Clinton was President.

They were on a collision course over … curtailing the rate of growth in the Medicare and Medicaid programs over the ensuing seven years.

Note, Gingrich and the Congressional Republicans didn't want to cut benefits, they wanted flatten the growth curve by $163 billion.

Granted, in 2009, $163 billion is about the cost of bailing out one insurance company, but back in 1995 it was serious money.

The Clinton White House made the case - which was bought into by the press corps - that Gingrich wanted to cut benefits to Medicare and Medicaid patients.

The argument that Gingrich was trying to make that what he wanted to do was slow the growth of the programs fell on deaf ears both among Washington-based reporters and their readers, listeners, and viewers around the nation.

All Clinton's White House team (which included the man who is now Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel) kept saying were four words: Medicare, Medicaid, Environment and Education.

That was it. Four words.

By the time we finished explaining what we were trying to accomplish in terms of slowing the rate of growth … Ess. Enn. Oh. Are. Ee. … we had lost the battle and, ultimately the war.

That's why, when I read that Obama was being fitted for yet another halo for his plan to "shave 1.5 percentage points off the growth rate of U.S. health-care costs over the next decade" I flashed back to those really fun days of the shut-down fight.

On the other side of the ledger, the President's plan to make health care available to everyone will entail, according to Bloomberg, "a 10-year price tag [of] $634 billion."

Even in 2009 that's real money. And, Obama has no idea how to pay for it.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Ia), ever the big thinker, has proposed "a special tax on soda and junk food." Does diet soda count? And if you order a salad at McDonald's is that exempt from the "junk food tax?"

Sometimes you have to sit back and wonder just how some of these people got to be where they are and how they stay there.

Related Topic:

In the green room at CNN yesterday there were two women waiting to be interviewed. I asked them what they were going to talk about and they said they were there on behalf of some nurses who had been arrested for acting out at a Senate hearing on single-payer health insurance.

I asked them whether the nurses thought they would be arrested if they made a scene and the two women said they did.

ME: Then what's the problem? They wanted to get arrested. They did get arrested, so everyone's happy. Or am I missing something?

THEM: It's a punitive arrest. They're being held even though in California nurses have their fingerprints on file and they should have been released.

ME: It seems to me that getting arrested is, by definition, punitive.

THEM: No other country in the world would have arrested them for free speech.

ME: Every other country in the world would have arrested them for speaking out against the government. They weren't arrested for speaking out. They were arrested for disrupting a Senate hearing.

THEM: Well…

Is this a great country, or what?

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Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.