Democrats Play Fast and Loose with Healthcare Facts

Democrats are using dishonest campaign tactics in saying that Republicans in Congress voted to give themselves taxpayer-funded healthcare for life.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

With the nation's attention focused on the presidential election, few people are looking at the global universe of congressional races. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California's protestations to the contrary, no serious political analysis out there that suggests the Republicans will lose control of the U.S. House of Representatives, even if President Barack Obama wins re-election—which appears increasingly unlikely.

This has led the Democrats to engage in some campaign tactics bordering on the dishonest. Currently, the party is running ads in marginal congressional districts suggesting, falsely, that Republican members of Congress who voted to repeal Obamacare have, instead, voted themselves taxpayer-funded healthcare for life.

[See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

The claim is based on a tortured and inaccurate reading of what Congress has done thus far in its effort to repeal Obamacare. Breaking it down, because Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley added language to the original measure that said all members of Congress had to have the same healthcare as everyone else in the event Obamacare became the law of the land, a vote to repeal Obamacare is a specific vote to repeal that provision.

By making that claim in campaign ads the Democrats are either misinformed—and remember that Pelosi, when she was leader, told everyone the bill need to pass so that people could know what was in it—or are being deliberately disingenuous in an effort to win votes. Repealing Obamacare means that the federal government's healthcare laws will revert to what they were before the bill was passed, which does not automatically equate to taxpayer-funded healthcare for life for elected officials.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

It's true that some publications like The Hill have claimed that the repeal vote "would let members of Congress keep their government-subsidized coverage after they retire" but that is stretching things considerably. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, "It remains unclear whether current participation in (the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program) will remain an option for Members and covered congressional staff." Which means no one actually knows as yet if a vote for repeal would actually do that because, as the New York Times and other publications have explained, the new law does not say when or even if members will actually lose the health benefits they currently have.

It's something of an esoteric issue but one that, because of the passions involved, may help move undecided voters who are, as a general principle, angry at Washington. The Democrats are doing nothing less than taking advantage of ambiguities in a law they rammed through Congress to make outrageous claims that do not stand up to scrutiny.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

Obamacare needs to be repealed. The GOP has been careful to cast their intentions as being to "repeal and replace" Obamacare with something that is market-driven and that respects the doctor-patient relationship. There is no way to fairly claim this means they are standing up for the idea that members of the U.S. House and Senate should enjoy a lifetime of taxpayer-funded healthcare. Pelosi and her friends are comparing apples and fishing rods, looking for an issue that will help them in their probably fruitless quest to retake the House but dangling shiny things in front of the voters to get them on the hook for an argument that just does not hold water.

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