By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
"What's the Turk paying you to set up my father, Captain?"As Michael Corleone said these words to Captain McClusky in The Godfather, which I watched during Saturday's snowfall, my mind went to the Senate healthcare debate. Three senators—Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont appeared to be holdouts. But as they fell like dominoes, details of what changes were made to the bill to, ah, sweeten the deal were released.
- For Sanders, the state of Vermont would see an increase in Medicaid reimbursement funding for six years above what other states would receive.
- For Nelson, Nebraska residents would be off the hook for Medicaid costs. Under the new language, the cost of the expansion of Medicaid enrollment by 15 million over the next 10 years will be shared by state and federal governments, except the state of Nebraska. For Nebraska, the federal government (that means you) will pay the cost for all new enrollees in perpetuity. Think your governor likes that?
- For Landrieu, Louisiana was promised a whopping $300 million in Medicaid funds.
There are two ways of looking at this. Either Landrieu, Nelson and Sanders received some sort of a political payoff—which has lead to the provisions being labeled the "Louisiana Purchase" and "Cornhusker Kickback," the latter sounding more like a professional wrestling finishing maneuver than above the board legislative language. Or, Landrieu, Nelson and Sanders are more skilled legislators than their colleagues, especially those who are up for reelection, who walked away empty handed.
In October, Sen. Barbara Boxer said California would receive extra funding in the bill, funding that apparently has not materialized. Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Michael Bennet of Colorado, both locked in tough election battles, never claimed any special funding incentives for their vote—and certainly haven't received any, either.
No, they'll have to explain to voters in their respective states why, at 1 a.m. on a Monday morning, they voted for an unpopular bill out of pure principle and support of language they never read, instead of crafty politics and delivering for their respective home states.
Some have called the inserted provisions a normal part of the political process and nothing to be alarmed, much less cynical, about. They may have a point, up to a point. Whatever one calls the deal-sweetening provisions; they certainly go against the change President Barack Obama has promised.
In speech after speech, President Obama has castigated a corrupt, pay-for-play political system in Afghanistan. He's right, of course, but can the president credibly castigate others after watching his party's behavior on healthcare?