Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels ended a speech Tuesday on the impact of President Obama’s new health law by holding up a prop. It was a large syringe that bore the word, “ObamaCare.” But instead of a needle, it was fitted with a large silver screw shaft.
Daniels did it all with a wry and almost bashful sense of humor, but the message from a leading Republican state executive to the federal government was unmistakable: “I think we got a scrap coming,” he said.
The unassuming former Bush administration budget director has stepped onto the national stage in the last few weeks, sparking debate and criticism from the right with comments in a lengthy profile that the Republican party must reach “a truce” over social issues to unite around an agenda focused on reining in government spending and debt.
Following his speech at the AmericIan Enterprise Institute, Daniels appeared exasperated at questions about the row his comments started (which has been fed by Democratic operatives happy to stoke conservative infighting), stating at one point: “I don’t have anything more to tell you about it.”
But during his speech on the impact of the new health-care law at the state level, Daniels did not pull any punches, labeling the new law “a huge blown opportunity” to change a health-care system that he said was badly in need of reform.
“Don’t call this reform. It didn’t reform anything. It took the form we had and blew it up to poster size,” Daniels said. “I’m afraid that by perpetuating the drivers of higher costs it’s setting us up for more disappointments.”
Daniels said the health law would add costs of between $2.9 billion and $3.6 billion to Indiana’s budget, which is currently $13 billion.
“We’re only just beginning to grapple — reeling might be the term — with what this will mean at the state level,” he said.
He also said that a looming question is whether his administration will set up a state-based exchange or not.
“I just assumed this was something we were ordered to do by the law,” Daniels said. “It’s not so. It is optional. We’re going to spend a lot of time before we decide to do this.”
Daniels lamented the fact that a program started in Indiana to give low-income people private accounts into which they contribute toward their health care but also receive public subsidies — a form of health savings accounts — would likely be eliminated by the new law.
“We will not have cost control in American health care until we are cost controllers,” the governor said, adding that the president’s program assumes most Americans are “too dumb” to make “the admittedly difficult rationing decisions that will always be there as long as an infinite want — immortality — collides with a finite resource: money.”