To the uninitiated, health care “reform” sounds like a good thing. Of course, “reform” is in the eye of the beholder. In practice, most Americans would not like the sort of “reform” being plotted by the Obama administration: politicizing the medical system, turning coverage and treatment decisions over to government.
It turns out that Democratic politicians aren’t so certain they like “reform” either. For even the Democrats seem to realize that ultimately someone has to pay the increased cost. And hiking taxes doesn’t bode well for their futures.
Behind the open brawling over how to rebuild the nation’s healthcare system, another struggle is beginning that may be the toughest test for the drive to cover millions of people without insurance and improve medical care for all: who should pay the eye-popping bill.
President Obama and his congressional allies — who are also struggling to hold down the national debt after years of deficit spending and new outlays to combat the recession — have pledged to raise more than $1 trillion over the next decade to offset the costs of what would be the biggest health overhaul in generations.
But the prospect of new taxes, new fees for businesses and cutbacks in other government spending has set off a furious behind-the-scenes struggle that is reviving the old maxim attributed to the late Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.”
Faced with a proposal to increase the tax on liquor and soft drinks, for instance, the liquor lobby sent Anchor Brewing Co. of San Francisco to see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). The milk industry objected too, saying it would have to raise the price of chocolate milk.
And when congressional Democrats started warming up to the idea of curbing the tax break for employer-provided health benefits, the labor movement attacked one of the idea’s leading champions, liberal Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
“I suspect what will emerge as the toughest issue for lawmakers is not the ideological debate about the role of government, because there is some consensus there about the need for a centrist approach. Rather, it will be how to pay for the plan,” said Drew Altman, president of the nonprofit Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “The bottom line is there is no slam-dunk, easy way to do this.”
To date, interest groups remain reluctant to appear intransigent and risk getting shut out of negotiations.
But the jockeying is expected to become public soon.
And it’s already worrying Democrats on Capitol Hill, where there is little consensus about how to come up with hundreds of billions of dollars.
Well, there’s always the option of “taxing the rich.” After all, that’s how we are going to pay for the $13 trillion in bail-outs so far. And the nearly $800 billion so-called stimulus package. And the more than $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities for Medicare and Social Security. What’s the problem with hitting the rich up with a few more trillion? “Taxing the rich” is what makes America great, right?