Thursday, October 22, 2009

Morning Must Reads

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board:

“Temporary Beltway Sanity” (The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board)

Yesterday saw some rare good news on the health-care front, with the stealth Democratic plan to move $247 billion in ObamaCare costs off the books collapsing in the Senate on a procedural vote of 47 to 53. Maybe there's more anxiety among Democrats about a huge permanent increase in government health spending than the White House is willing to let on.

A dozen Democrats (plus independent Joe Lieberman) voted against Majority Leader Harry Reid's gambit, which would have superseded automatic cuts in Medicare payments to doctors scheduled for 21% next year and higher after that. Democrats had included this fix as part of "comprehensive" reform but that pushed costs too high, while President Obama is insisting on a bill that doesn't increase the deficit on paper.

So Mr. Reid's inspiration was to decouple these payments from ObamaCare as stand-alone legislation, while hoping everyone ignored the phony budget math. The media did mostly ignore this subterfuge. But enough Republicans developed enough backbone that they spooked Democrats like North Dakota's Kent Conrad, who for once stood by their supposed deficit-hawk convictions. Notwithstanding the anesthetizing effect of Congress's now-routine trillion-dollar cost estimates, more than a few Democrats are still capable of sticker shock.

Mr. Reid said yesterday that he expects the Senate to "pick this up again" after it dispenses with ObamaCare, perhaps by correcting the doctor-payment formula for only two years at a cost of $24 billion. No doubt that too would be deficit-financed, though the new problem is that Democrats wouldn't be meeting the American Medical Association's price for backing ObamaCare.

The doctors lobby said in a statement that it was "deeply disappointed" by the vote, and that "Congress created the Medicare physician payment system, and Congress needs to fix this problem once and for all." If the AMA has any sense at all they'll see that they're being played for fools. (We recognize that this is a rhetorical "if.")

As for the Democrats who are worried about spending, or claim to be worried, we trust they understand that the entire premise of ObamaCare rests on automatic future spending cuts like the doctor payments that will never happen in practice, among other budget gimmicks. If they can't eat a mere $247 billion, then they shouldn't eat ObamaCare's other future trillions.

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