Health Care Reform and the Spending Hangover, by StairwaytoKevin

Are Americans finally coming off the prolonged binge of spending and government intrusion characterized by the first six months of the Obama administration? Recent polls indicate that as the nation tackles a host of policy issues, with health-care at the forefront, perhaps we have entered a collective hangover with the noticeable symptoms of guilt and utter confusion. Far be it from this timid conservative to triumphantly declare victory. But let’s hope that last night – or the past six months of trillion-dollar spending sprees, rather – was simply a one-night-stand, and that the next time we’re feeling a bit drunk and lonely – or we as a nation confront uncharted economic and political territory – we don’t resort to the same failed tactics of government encroachment and spending.

Curiously, despite the political weakness of the Republican Party as well as the sheer popularity of the President, Americans are heavily skeptical of another supposed “fix” that contradicts fundamental principles of equity, fiscal prudence, and free market economics. A $787 billion stimulus bill, hundreds of billions in TARP funds, and billions more in auto bailouts have taken their toll on the American public. They have been burned by this administration’s penchant for spending now while asking questions later.

A Wall Street Journal poll from last week found 58% of respondents believe government should keep the deficit down even if it slows economic growth. Unfortunately for those advocating a massive health-care restructuring, Americans understand any type of restructuring will likely be permanent. It will also grow as benefits are added and costs skyrocket, as has been the case with nearly all public programs.

Health-care reform emanating from both the Senate finance and health committees do not meet the Congressional Budget Office measurements of being revenue neutral over the course of the next decade or reducing country’s long-term health care burden. Even bi-partisan plans such as the Wyden-Bennett plan, which would eliminate the tax exemption on employer-provided health benefits (it is worth noting that Obama has reversed his campaign rhetoric that denounced McCain’s support of such a plan as the largest middle-class tax hike in history) have met political resistance. Unions are feeling mighty after their electoral triumph in November and subsequent financial triumph in the Detroit bailout/bankruptcy. They are not quite ready to relinquish hefty benefits packages that would be affected by the Wyden-Bennett plan.

While compelling, many other arguments against liberal health-care reform have fallen flat. Nevermind that 17 million uninsured Americans live in households with income greater than $50,000; or that 40 percent of the uninsured are between the ages of 18 and 34 (a demographic where health care is not a necessity); or that nearly 14 million uninsured Americans are already eligible for taxpayer-funded insurance. Similarly hollow are the calls from the nation’s leading health-care experts such as the American Medical Association. They have opposed aspects such as the public option due to glaring shortcomings in Medicaid and Medicare, which they fear would be duplicated. Under those programs, which like the current debate began with promise of a hybrid public-private model – private plans were engulfed by government plans. Reimbursements have also shrunk as bureaucrats look for ways to trim the bloated operating costs of a government monopoly.

However, these arguments have not resonated with the American public. Thus far, opposition to health-care expansion and a public option has proven most effective when targeting Americans uneasy with any further deficit spending and the nation’s rapidly-expanding debt. It is certainly encouraging to see the nation responsibly recuperate from its spending hangover with a more modest approach to health-care reform. In addition to the stimulus package, bailouts of Wall Street and Detroit are costing Americans trillions for years to come. Many are finally ignoring the annoying friend who maintains “the only way to cure a hangover is to drink more,” or in this case the Paul Krugmans who insists “the only way to overcome a deficit or achieve any policy goal is to spend your way out.”

StairwaytoKevin hides behind his anonymity because he fears reprisals from tie-dye-wearing teacher’s Unions, and because he is a coward beyond measure. He can be reached by comment on this article.

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