News Story

Flashback: The Health Care Bill Is Full of Stocking Stuffers

The following is a reprint of an article originally published on Dec. 23, 2009. In the nights before Christmas in 2009, the Obamacare health care bill was beginning to work its way through Congress. This is a look back at that process. 

It must be Christmas with all the presents floating around.

The health care bill just cleared its first hurdle through the Senate and the amount of special favors and outright bribes for powerful senators and swing states is (expectedly) outrageous. 

The most egregious are as follows:

  • The "Cornhusker Kickback" - For Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., "a provision exempting his state from paying the usual share of costs for new Medicaid patients." The deal is expected to cost taxpayers $100 million over 10 years.
  • From Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., - a $100 million provision "anonymously" stuck into the package, money that Dodd wants to go to the University of Connecticut's medical center. According to the AP, at first Dodd didn't want to claim credit for that one, but he eventually confessed. Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a spending watchdog group, estimates that Dodd has secured 92 earmarks worth at least $121 million for Connecticut. "Not bad for a senator who isn't even on the Appropriations Committee," Ellis added.
  • Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., - won language in the bill that could give North Dakota an additional $650 million in Medicaid reimbursements over the next decade.

From our own state of Michigan,

  • Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., - won an exemption for nonprofit insurers (read, "Blue Cross Blue Shield," which controls 70 percent of Michigan's health insurance market) from a big excise tax.
  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., - helped tighten language that would allow Michigan hospitals to receive higher Medicare payments along with Connecticut. The cost?  About $21 million.

"Once people see a leader willing to take these kinds of deals, people have a tendency to withhold their votes until they get a similar deal. ... If you hold out, you, too, can be Ben Nelson, perhaps," said Diana Evans, a Trinity College political science professor.

Even a Democrat has criticized the process. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who did not get a special carve-out for Colorado in the bill, took to the floor Monday to reject such deal making. "Only in Washington would someone be attacked for not negotiating a backroom deal," Bennet said. "Just because others choose to engage in the same tired Washington rituals doesn't mean that I have to."

With all of the massive spending bills passed this year, it should be no surprise that lobbyists are on pace for a record year, poised to shatter last year's record of $3.3 billion spent; and this despite a president who promised to crack down on political favoritism.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., defended the process.

"There are 100 senators here, and I don't know that there's a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that isn't important to them," Reid said. "If they don't have something in it important to them then it doesn't speak well of them."

He compared the bill to the Defense Department appropriations bill, which passed Saturday and is another piece of legislation thick with pork, earmarks and other provisions benefitting individual members and private corporations.

"That's what legislation's all about," Reid said. "It's the art of compromise. In this great country of ours, Nevada has many different problems than does New Hampshire. Michigan has many different problems than does Georgia."

Actually, those states and the other 46 all have the same problem; an intrusive federal government cherry picking taxpayer dollars to hand out in order to curry support for bad legislation. Our elected leaders would have us believe the government is like Santa Clause; able to hand out presents and favors with no real finite cost. But just like Old Saint Nick, this is a false illusion.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.