Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sickening Frame: From Health Care to Budget Reform

Senators tossed cliches in this morning's Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee meeting. If I hadn't seen the players, Joe Lieberman vs. Max Baucus, it could've been a Senate Finance Committee meeting on health reform. I heard:

We don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

It impacts America's ability to compete in a global economy.

Both phrases were heavily used in health care reform. They're now working overtime for America's Gordian budget knot.

Another odd coincidence, Senator Joe Lieberman did most of the talking. He sat fat and happy in the Chairman's, I mean Chimera's seat. "Flip flop" Joe lobbied for Medicare buy-in 90 days ago. Yet, his bait and switch garnered no ill will from the White House. Instead the White House went all Carrie on Howard Dean, using a five year old campaign health promise to eviscerate Dr. Dean.

Joe Lieberman creepily smiled at his guests, two fellow Senators. Kent Conrad (of North Dakota critical access hospital fame) testified on getting the budget under control. He specifically cited the revenue side of the budget, saying current taxation hampered America's ability to compete in a global economy. This is a buzz phrase for cutting taxes on the wealthy. Otherwise, they will take their ample capital to lower tax portions of the globe.

After Conrad was excused, the CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Institute testified. David Walker's boss funded the Institute with billions in profits from The Blackstone Group, a private equity underwriter (PEU). How did carried interest taxation and the Bush capital gains cut help Mr. Peterson? Not everyone was as lucky as Pete, cashing out at the market top.

Here's the frame:

The health care fix is expensive, necessary and paid for.

America can't afford its current obligations, programs will have to be cut.

How much of a stretch is it for people to think, we can't afford what might pass, even though health insurance assistance doesn't start until 2014?

Here's what's not being said. Employers will shift health insurance costs to workers, even dumping the benefit altogether. 60 million Americans went without health insurance at one point in the last year, according to the CDC.

CMS Chief Actuary Richard Foster projects 17 million Americans will lose employer coverage under health reform. If the name sounds familiar, Mr. Foster was threatened with his job by ex CMS head Tom Scully. After crafting the Medicare Prescription Drug program, Scully went the Pete Peterson route, becoming a PEU with Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. Now Senior Partner, Scully owns 135,880 shares of Universal American, a health insurance company and WCAS affiliate.

Joe's tantrum yanked the public option and ditched any Medicare buy-in. This drove Universal American's stock price up over $1 a share. Tom Scully's personal portfolio increased over $135,000. Sweet!

How long before Kent Conrad, David Walker and company call for a capital gains tax cut to make us more competitive globally? That would be perfectly good for Scully. He hopes it's soon.

Don't forget the two D.C. mantras:

We can't afford it.

We can't afford to tax the rich or corporations.

What pittance will remain in four years to fund health reform? By then the global economy, with its faceless greedy leaders, will be the enemy of good people everywhere.

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