The ongoing debate over health care reform and the cost of carrying out such an overhaul has become a bright, shining example of why the public should have serious doubts as to whether or not either beltway party is capable of protecting our pocketbooks and defending our hard-earned, easily spent tax dollars.
Reports streamed out of Washington last month heralding a deal struck by liberal Yellow Dog Democrats and their counterparts, the moderate Blue Dog Democrats advancing a key piece of the ballyhooed health care reform program—H.R. 3200—to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Early estimates suggest a total cost of $900 billion over the course of ten years. This particular bill will require Americans to have health insurance through either a private plan or through nonprofit cooperatives while scaling back the controversial "public option," supported by the most liberal Democrats.
Many Washington Republicans have decried any mention of government involvement in health care as socialism, fiscal rascalism, and even characterize it as a government scheme to euthanize senior citizens. As Republican criticism reaches a rhetorical crescendo about how the U.S.A. will turn into the U.S.S.R. by spending $900 billion in ten years on health care reform, Beltway Republicans ought to consider why their protests on the grounds of fiscal responsibility are likely to fall on deaf ears.
First, it was a Republican administration and a Republican-controlled Congress that opened the floodgates for over $915 billion in spending since 2001 on wars in Afghanistan and Mesopotamia. Thus far, American taxpayers have shouldered a total of $687 billion for the Iraq War and $228 billion in Afghanistan. Officially making this a bipartisan mess, Obama has just asked for an additional $84.8 billion for both wars for the rest of the current fiscal year and is expected to order more troops on the ground. So much for the "change" promised on the campaign trail.
If reason number one to doubt Republican rhetoric on fiscal responsibility wasn’t enough, a second obvious example is S. 877, passed in November 2003 by a vote of 220 to 215 in the House. This was the infamous Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 approved in the wee hours of the morning after White House arm twisting resulting in "yea" votes from 25 original GOP opponents of the legislation, including Pennsylvania’s own Congressmen Tim Murphy and Joe Pitts.
Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan White House official and fiscal watchdog wrote in his 2006 tome, Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (2006) that the administration "had covered up internal estimates of the cost of the legislation." Bartlett says that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in 2003 estimated the cost of the drug bill to be less than $395 billion for ten years. According to Bartlett, it was discovered in 2005 that the actual cost was over $800 billion, or almost a half trillion dollars more than the original estimate. In other words, the Bush White House and the CBO intentionally low-balled the cost to secure final passage of the bill.
Lastly, Republicans—much like their Democrat rivals—have failed miserably on controlling pork barrel spending. From 1993 to 2001, Democrat Bill Clinton racked up a total of $94.3 billion in pork barrel spending, says Citizens Against Government Waste. Pork barrel spending under Republican George W. Bush increased to $170.7 billion.
Pork spending under Clinton averaged $7.2 billion per year when Democrats controlled Congress and escalated to an average of $13.3 billion per year when Republicans held control of the purse strings. During the Bush years, pork barrel spending averaged $15.2 billion annually in years the Democrats held Congress. The pork price tag stood at an average of $19.3 billion annually while Congress was divided among the parties and was at its greatest average peak of $25.4 billion per year while Republicans controlled both the House and Senate.
The point is not that Democrats are fiscal conservatives or budget hawks, but instead that Republican leaders who are currently protesting the extravagant cost of health care reform are responsible for leaving the nation with a $900 billion war bill, an $800 billion tab for ten years of Medicare "reform" legislation, and over $170 billion in pork spending during the Bush years. This isn’t even taking into account the costs of the $700 billion plus bank bailout last year, tens of billions in unfunded mandates from No Child Left Behind, and the auto industry bailout passed in 2008.
Today our national debt stands at over $11.7 trillion and we face historically high federal budget deficits of $1.58 trillion because neither party takes spending seriously. It is improbable that the public will trust the rhetoric of either party after considering the costs of the policies they are both responsible for implementing.
Before our Representatives and Senators vote on any health care reform bill this fall, they need to ask themselves two critical questions that have been long ignored. First, can we afford this? And second, how will we pay for it? Until these questions can be legitimately answered, Americans can continue to expect more of the same from those elected to safeguard our money and our country’s future.
Nathan Shrader can be reached at [email protected] He is a 1999 graduate of Norwin High School with a B.A. from Thiel College and an M.S. in Political Science from Suffolk University. He can also be reached through his web page at www.NathanShrader.com.