By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Congressional Budget Office cast doubt Wednesday on claims that the healthcare bill currently before the United States Senate would help Medicare remain solvent. The nonpartisan agency, which is charged with determining the cost of proposals before Congress, said in a letter that proponents of the bill were in effect double-counting the impact of the savings the legislation would generate. The $246 billion the CBO estimated the legislation would save Medicare "can't both finance new programs and help pay future expenses for elderly covered under the federal program," as the current bill has it doing, the budget office said, "Nor could those savings be used to extend the solvency of Medicare, set to run out of money in 2017," Bloomberg reported.
Part of the problem, of course, is the bill's total cost, which has ballooned as a result of the old-fashioned political pork barreling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to use to sweeten the pot in order to get to 60 votes.
In the original bill, Reid added $300 million in taxpayer funds in order to secure the vote of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and between $25 billion and $30 billion to for a special provision that will exempt about 800,000 Florida senior citizens from any of the proposed cuts to the Medicare Advantage program. On top of that, Reid tossed in provisions that the Washington Examiner's Susan Ferrechio reported, run into the tens of billions, including:
- A commitment that the federal government will permanently pay for Medicaid expansion in Nebraska at a cost of about $100 million for Sen. Ben Nelson;
- A provision that shelters Mutual of Omaha in Nebraska and Blue Cross Blue Shield in Michigan from a proposed $10 billion annual fee on the health insurance industry, for Nebraska's Nelson and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin;
- A $100 million grant tailored to a proposal for a new hospital at the University of Connecticut Health Center to help beleaguered and ethically challenged Sen. Chris Dodd in his uphill fight to win re-election;
- A 2.2 percent increase in federal coverage of Medicaid expansion, worth about $600 million over a decade to satisfy some of the concerns raised by Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy.
Reid's proficiency in handing out "cash for cloture," as some on Capitol Hill are calling it, may have won passage for the bill out of Congress's upper chamber--but only while raising the ire of House members annoyed at having being denied the opportunity to oink beside their Senate counterparts at the public trough.
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Corrected on 12/24/09: An earlier version of this blog post misstated the name of the federal healthcare program whose cuts 800,000 Florida senior citizens would be exempt from. It is Medicare Advantage.