Public debate and discussion are the critical disinfectants for democratic government. That’s how we spotlight ideas and alternatives and ultimately make decisions on the great issues of the day. This elemental truth seems to have escaped this administration and congressional leaders as Congress and the president have moved to preclude debate in this crucial election year on possibly the two most important issues facing the American people: health care and the federal budget.
First, health care: The president recently made a recess appointment (when Congress was in “recess”) of Dr. Donald Berwick to head the critical, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a bureaucracy that will write many of the regulations implementing Obamacare. The recess appointment circumvents the need for the Senate to confirm the nominee and was made even before Dr. Berwick testified at a hearing. Republicans had planned to question Dr. Berwick on issues surrounding Obamacare that have arisen since passage of the law earlier this year.
Here are some of the questions that Dr. Berwick would have faced:
- Your own department issued a report in April stating that national health expenditures will increase $311 billion more after the passage of Obamacare than under the previous law. What ideas, other than rationing, do you have to bend to lower the cost-curve?
- That same report indicated that some of the Medicare cuts, required by Obamacare, “may be unrealistic,” especially the 15% cuts to providers. What is your plan for achieving these huge cost savings without affecting the quality of care for Medicare recipients?
- Some of the revenue streams to pay for Obamacare are already under attack. Many believe that the tax on high value health plans will never be enacted. The much discussed, “tanning tax” is already being watered down and may not nearly raise the projected amount. How will diminishing revenues affect your ability to manage and implement Obamacare?
It is no wonder why the administration did not want to have this discussion before the elections.
Second, the federal budget: For the first time, the House of Representatives did not enact a budget resolution, which is meant to provide a road map for federal spending targets and specifically how the Congress intends to reach revenue and expenditure goals. Further, little work is being done on individual appropriations bills in the remaining days of this Congress. Congressional leaders are planning to wait until after the November elections to enact a budget that should take effect on October 1st.
Among the issues the administration does not want to discuss before the elections:
- How specifically does the president intend to deal with a deficit that, by his estimates, will equal $1.6 trillion this fiscal year and trillions more in future years?
- What will be the fiscal impact on the many tax increases that he is planning beginning in 2011?
- If we are in the recovery that the president says we are in, and if the stimulus has worked so well, why is unemployment still 9.5% even as more Americans leave the job market?
- Given the proposed tax increases, and new regulatory burdens on business, what is the strategy to increase economic growth, which continues to be anemic especially in a recovery that is nearing one year old?
Al Gore might call them “inconvenient truths.” Ronald Reagan would say, ”Facts are stubborn things.” Either way, this administration won’t even discuss, let alone offer solutions, to the real concerns that Americans are feeling today.
No matter. The people will have the final say in November.
The writer is Chairman of GOPAC, the center for training and electing the next generation of Republican leaders.