Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blue Dog, I Saw You Standing Alone

An editorial in today's WSJ explains that ObamaCare's provisions to contain costs will almost certainly lead to reduced benefits :

Now Democrats have decided that raiding Medicare and slashing benefits is fine if the larger goal is to nationalize health care. But instead of doing it honestly, they want to shunt off unpopular decisions to an obscure and unelected central committee that will convert medical decisions into five-year plans. The notion is fundamentally undemocratic, especially because its true purpose is to protect politicians when "MedPAC on steroids" inevitably reduces treatment options in order to save money after the costs of government care explode.

And CBO is almost certainly underestimating this future cost explosion. After only three years, the universal health-care experiment in Massachusetts is already breaking that state's budget and its own version of MedPAC is now recommending radical changes, including a "global" health-care budget.

Romney in 2012!

This means that state bureaucrats will decide what the "right" amount is to spend on medicine, and doctors and hospitals will be given some portion of the total and told to make it work for patients. This is supposed to be a kind of Occam's scalpel, forcing providers to cut unnecessary treatments. But under a global budget, payments are likely to be lower than economic costs, squeezing out some beneficial treatments.

There's more than a little poetic justice in a Democratic President telling Democrats in Congress that they can't be trusted to rationally manage their own programs. But if that's really what Mr. Obama thinks, he's crazy to be simultaneously demanding even larger government programs. Health care will always be distorted by politics if government is paying for it. As for the Blue Dogs, they ought to tell the President that ObamaCare is dead unless he goes back to the drawing board.

Ah yes, the Blue Dog Democrats. Those fiscally conservative watchdogs who safeguard the public purse strings by keeping their more liberal spending Democratic brethren at bay. You know, the House Democrats who vote against major increases in public spending and taxes. Democrats like Minnesota's own Collin Peterson.

Let's look at Peterson's recent record of dogged fiscal responsibility.

- The expansion of the SCHIP program to cover families up to 300% of the poverty level? Peterson votes Yes.

- The $787 billion economic stimulus plan? Peterson votes No.

- President Obama's 2010 budget which massively increases spending? Peterson votes Yes.

- The Cap and Trade energy bill? Liberal Dems throw Peterson a bone and he lays down to vote Yes.

So Peterson's voting average as a Blue Dog is .250. Plenty good enough to have him bat second in the Twins lineup, but not exactly what you'd expect from your watchdog.

Merrill Matthews also has a piece in today's WSJ in which he lays out how Blue Dog Democrats Could Make or Break Health-care Reform:

Republicans have long called themselves fiscal conservatives. But after their spending spree in the first six years of the Bush administration, they are widely perceived to have tarnished their brand.

Are the Blue Dogs tarnishing their brand, too? If 80% of them voted for the stimulus bill and nearly 75% voted for the 2010 federal budget, can the group rightfully claim to be fiscally conservative?

The health-care bill will be the final test. The House legislation will cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years, including around $550 billion to $600 billion in new taxes. That doesn't count the employer mandate that will force employers to provide coverage or pay a penalty.

If all House Republicans oppose the bill, which seems likely, the Blue Dogs have enough votes to make or break health care in the House. Blue Dog Mike Ross of Arkansas says the bill can't pass the House. He's right, but only if 40 Blue Dogs or other Democrats vote against the bill.

The Democratic leadership and the president will put enormous pressure on the Blue Dogs to support the legislation. Now we'll see if the Blue Dogs have bite to go along with their bark.

If Blue Dogs like Collin Peterson follow their recent voting pattern, they won't have the teeth to take a bite out of President's Obama's health care plans. In which case they should change the name of their group to something more fitting. Pelosi's Lap Dogs perhaps.

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