If nothing else, the acrimonious debate over health care reform has contributed some potent new expressions to the American political vocabulary.
You heard weeks ago about “death panels.” And the vaguely named “public option,” which has nothing to do with finding a suitable men’s room at the shopping mall.
But what about the “Louisiana purchase” of 2009? Or the “Cornhusker kickback”? Or “U. Con”?
Those are nicknames hung on some of the seedy backroom deals cut by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to secure the 60 votes he needs for passage of his $871 billion health care reform bill.
Here’s a translation of those terms, compliments of The Washington Post:
— Louisiana purchase: The reported $100 million in extra Medicaid money secured for her state by Sen. Mary Landrieu. She has boasted she actually snared $300 million.
— Cornhusker kickback: A similar $100 million for Sen. Ben Nelson’s Nebraska.
— U. Con: $100 million meant for a medical center in Sen. Chris Dodd’s Connecticut.
There also were special favors handed out to Vermont, Massachusetts, Montana, Iowa, Michigan and Florida. And that’s just the stuff we know about so far. Remember, this is a 2,400-plus page bill.
The bill advanced in a 60-39 vote Thursday morning. Next stop: a Senate-House conference committee, where dueling versions of health care legislation will be melded into one and where upright lawmakers will strip out all of the special interest bribes, er, payments made to senators in exchange for their votes.
Just kidding! That’s as likely as aspirin curing cancer. Likelier: More lawmakers clamoring to extort gazillions for their states. Guess who’ll pay for all of this.
And how has Reid reacted? “I don’t know if there is a senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that was important to them,” he said Monday about what’s become known as “cash for cloture.” “And if they don’t have something in it important to them, then it doesn’t speak well of them.”
Sure. If a senator merely votes for a bill because it’s the right thing to do, rather than it’s the right thing to do if he gets $100 million in special benefits for his state, then he’s a dope? Talk about twisted logic.
We’ve seen this kind of shameful display before. To roughly paraphrase a famous line from President Barack Obama: It’s not a Democratic thing. Or a Republican thing. It’s a Congress thing.
Remember what happened last year, as the economy shambled over a cliff and the House approved an $800 billion-plus rescue plan? Remember how some recalcitrant members of Congress were moved to switch their votes? Saving the economy from potential ruin wasn’t enough of an incentive. Thus the bill came to include $2 million in tax breaks for the manufacturers of kids’ wooden arrows, $192 million for rum producers, $148 million in tariff relief for U.S. wool fabric producers and $33 million for corporations operating in American Samoa.
Oh, and $2 million to help people who commute to work on bicycles.
There are plenty of winners and losers in the Senate health bill. Democrats removed a tax on cosmetic surgery (the “Botax”) but added a tax on tanning salons. The tax on so-called Cadillac health plans remains, but the bill now exempts miners, construction workers, cops, firefighters, longshoremen and other union members who contribute so mightily to Democratic causes.
Obama envisioned health care reform as a bipartisan effort. It hasn’t turned out that way. The Dems wholly own the Senate and House bills. And public opinion be damned.
But leaders of the two chambers still can show sense by dropping their noble pretensions that getting health care reform this far is all about . . . health care.
Instead, this debacle evokes the all-purpose Chicago political motto proposed by the late columnist Mike Royko:
“Ubi Est Mea?” — “Where’s Mine?”