As the outlines of the Democrats' health care endgame begin to emerge, one thing has become perfectly clear: The majority party in Washington, D.C., has no intention of bipartisanship.
Before last month's televised summit, President Barack Obama submitted an 11-page proposal that included "targeted changes" to the 2,700-page Senate bill. Following the summit, the president belatedly embraced a small number of reforms proposed by Republicans to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse in our medical system. In a modest attempt to address concerns about the runaway medical liability system, he suggested state "demonstrations" that might begin to stem the tide of junk lawsuits that reward trial lawyers, drive up costs and diminish the quality of care. He also indicated possible support for expanded access to health savings accounts and improved reimbursement for doctors who serve Medicaid patients — steps that will expand access to care.
These ideas would undoubtedly improve the legislation, but one simple fact remains: A government takeover of health care that also happens to reduce medical fraud or modestly enhance health savings is still a government takeover of health care.
The American people have already rejected the legislation crafted by Congressional Democrats. They do not want a bill that puts federal bureaucrats in charge of health care decisions. They do not want more than a trillion dollars in new spending paid for with budget gimmicks and on the backs of workers and job creators through a punitive new tax on jobs. They do not want a bill that fails to control and lower health care costs.
Through town hall meetings and tea parties, and at the polls and ballot boxes, the American people have spoken. But evidently, Democrats cannot or will not take no for an answer, operating under the arrogant assumption that Americans simply do not understand the bill, and if they did, they would support it.
Operating on that same spirit of conceit, the president and Democratic leaders are pursuing the ultimate inside-the-Beltway scheme to overrule the will of the American people and circumvent an open legislative process.
The tactic they plan to use is formally known as budget reconciliation, a process that has historically been used to rein in government spending. Yet the administration's own chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects that federal health care spending will increase by at least $279 billion under the Democrats' plan. In short, the D.C. Democrats are using a tool intended to reduce the size of government to orchestrate an unparalleled expansion of government power and spending.
Perhaps that's why Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), one of the architects of the 1974 law that created the reconciliation process, has called its use for strong-arming passage of health care legislation "an outrage that must be resisted."
"The misuse of the arcane process of reconciliation — a process intended for deficit reduction — to enact substantive policy changes is an undemocratic disservice to our people and to the Senate's institutional role," Byrd argued in the Washington Post.
If the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader insist on limiting debate and forcing a series of votes that culminate with passage of a government takeover of health care that does little to control underlying costs and reduce federal spending, the only thing bipartisan about it will be the opposition. With Republicans shut out of the legislative process entirely, the biggest obstacle for Democrats now is other Democrats.
Whether they are standing on principle against an unpopular plan or simply nervous about elections in the fall, there are substantial numbers of Democrats on both sides of the Capitol who have expressed their opposition outright. With Democrats unable to sell their plan even within their own party, the American people should beware the impending spin campaign to persuade them to support a plan that they have already rejected.
Of course, it's not too late to start over. The American people want a step-by-step approach to reform that will bring down health care costs. If Democrats had embraced this strategy from the outset, I'm confident meaningful reforms would have been signed into law months ago. The American people could already be reaping the benefits of common-sense, bipartisan solutions that lower costs, increase access and prevent abuses in the health care system.
Instead, Democrats have stubbornly continued their go-it-alone strategy that creates the false choice of radical changes to health care or no changes at all.
If the president is serious about bipartisan reform, it is within reach. During the televised health care summit at the Blair House, Republicans put substantive reform policies on the table. We debated ideas and sought common ground.
The Democrats who control the levers of power in Washington must decide now whether to work with us on bringing down health care costs one step at a time or move full-speed ahead with their plan to create a massive new federal entitlement program and upend one-sixth of our economy — all against the wishes of the American people. The choice is theirs.
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is the ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee.