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The American people have been crystal clear over the past year that they want us to start over with a bipartisan approach to health care reform. They don’t want a massive, partisan plan that will raise taxes, cut our seniors’ Medicare, and spends trillions of dollars.
But the White House and some Democrats in Congress are prepared to ignore their wishes. Intent on passing their plan, they will resort to using an arcane parliamentary technique called reconciliation. When people ask me what reconciliation means, I say, in this instance, it means Congress is thumbing its nose at its constituents.
Reconciliation is a way to ram through this plan with as few votes as possible, and on a purely partisan basis. A tool primarily used in the budgeting process, it was never meant for such a fundamental change in policy that will greatly increase the role of government in people’s lives.
Most times when the procedure has been used in the past, such as to reform welfare or expand health insurance for children, it has had significant bipartisan support. In the few instances when it was used on a purely partisan basis, the party in power paid a heavy price with the American people in the subsequent elections.
But the plan that might be rammed through this time will raise health care costs instead of lowering them. It will make massive cuts to Medicare and impose new taxes during a recession when people are already struggling. And the government will fine you if you don’t buy the right insurance, and further expand the role of government in your personal decisions.
According to a CNN poll released recently, three out of four people think we should start over or scrap this current approach completely. Instead, Americans want step-by-step reforms that address the core of the problem-costs.
Congress should listen to its constituents, stop going down this road and start over. We can start with reforms that should be easy for everyone to agree on, such as ending the junk lawsuits that drive up costs and limit access to care in many places, particularly here in Kentucky.
We should strengthen state-based reforms, like high-risk pools, to make coverage affordable for those with pre-existing conditions-an idea both parties support. We should address the health care needs of small businesses, many of which struggle to provide health insurance for their employees, without imposing new taxes that kill jobs.
We should use competition to make insurance more affordable by letting people purchase coverage across state lines. And we should expand health savings accounts. But the longer Washington sticks with its failed approach, the longer Americans will have to wait for real reforms like these.
It’s common sense that the wrong process-reconciliation-could lead to the wrong policy. Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat, wrote recently, “I was one of the authors of the legislation that created the budget ‘reconciliation’ process in 1974, and I am certain that putting health care reform...on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted.”
Senator Byrd added, “Using the reconciliation process to enact major legislation prevents an open debate about critical issues in full view of the public...tactics that ignore the means in pursuit of the ends are wrong when the outcome affects Americans’ health and economic security.”
I couldn’t agree more with that, or with another Democratic senator, who said a few years ago that the reconciliation process is “the wrong place for policy changes.” That senator was Barack Obama.
Both parties should agree that enacting this partisan plan against the wishes of the voters is wrong. If the proponents of this partisan plan go through with using reconciliation to jam their scheme down the throats of the American people, the only thing that will be bipartisan about the whole mess will be the opposition to it.