Monday, December 11, 2023

Why Is Speaker Mike Johnson Colluding with Democrats to Raid Medicare?

It’s baa-ack.

A piece of legislation I pilloried just a few months ago, in the waning days of the speakership of Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is scheduled to come to the House floor this week. The move to resurrect the legislation, which had heretofore been left for dead, comes not because Republican leadership made substantive changes to attract conservative Republicans, but instead because it appealed for greater support from Democrats. It’s the latest example of how new House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has continued the swampy ways of his predecessor.

Billions in New Spending

To be clear, the legislation, officially titled the “Lower Costs, More Transparency Act,” contains some provisions that will benefit consumers. Making prices more available will allow patients to shop around for better deals, hopefully leading prices within health care to moderate, if not decline outright.

But as previously outlined in September, these provisions amount to lipstick on the proverbial pig. The measure contains various “health extenders” that House Republican “leaders” consider — wrongly — “must-pass” legislation. While those “leaders” are trying to sell the measure as a transparency bill, the engine driving this legislative train is its new spending — nearly $15 billion worth.

To that end, the bill:

  • Violates House Rules: The bill front-loads its spending in its first two years, using 10 years of “pay-fors” to fund two years of spending — a fiscal gimmick similar to Democrats’ Build Back Bankrupt legislation. That violates the House’s CUTGO rule, which states that legislation cannot increase mandatory (i.e., automatic) spending over its five or 10 years.
  • Raids Medicare: The bill saves over $3.7 billion from lower Medicare payments to hospitals. In this instance, lowering these overpayments to hospitals has much merit — provided the savings actually go toward improving Medicare’s solvency. The bill doesn’t do that. Instead, it diverts those Medicare funds elsewhere.
  • Funds Obamacare Spending: Where will the Medicare funds go? Among other places, to fund an extension of mandatory spending on health centers originally proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as part of Obamacare.

While the bill sponsors have called the legislation the “Lower Costs, More Transparency Act,” a more accurate term might be the “Raid Medicare, Fund Obamacare Act” — because that speaks to the bill’s true purpose.

‘Strengthening’ Medicare by Raiding It?

The legislation’s impending raid on Medicare comes mere weeks after Johnson was attacked by the left upon assuming the speakership. Progressive groups pointed to some of his prior comments, including this interview Johnson conducted with staff for the Heritage Foundation, to suggest that Johnson would jeopardize Medicare and Social Security.

The new speaker is absolutely right that Medicare and Social Security face significant financial problems and need reform ASAP. But how does raiding Medicare to fund other spending as one of Johnson’s first official acts help make these programs solvent?

Likewise, in the run-up to last year’s midterm elections, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., tried to rebut “Mediscare” tactics from the left. He claimed:

We proposed strengthening and shoring up Medicare and Social Security, which are both, by the way, headed for bankruptcy if we do nothing.

Democrats want to make that worse. Democrats actually recently passed a bill to raid money out of Social Security. So instead of making those programs less stable, what we want to do is shore them up.

Of course, taking Medicare funds to pay for spending elsewhere could accelerate Medicare’s insolvency rather than delay it. And when it comes to Scalise’s allegations about Democrats raiding money from Social Security, the fact that this health care legislation raids Medicare brings to mind (of all people) Bill Clinton: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”

Last Friday, I emailed the offices of both Speaker Johnson and Majority Leader Scalise, asking for their take on how a bill that diverts nearly $4 billion from Medicare to fund spending elsewhere will “strengthen” Medicare. Neither office responded to multiple requests for comment.

Republican ‘Leaders’ Negotiating with Democrats

One last point is perhaps the most telling: Virtually all of the changes made to the bill since its introduction in September are technical and clarifying in nature.

In the waning days of McCarthy’s speakership, officials canceled a scheduled vote on the measure, because they did not believe they had enough support to pass the bill. Given that impasse, committee chairs could have decided to speak with conservatives to try to address their substantive concerns — for instance, scaling back the spending and removing the “raid” on Medicare.

What happened instead? Politico reported last week that Republican “leaders” had decided to move on the legislation because Democratic leaders have signed on. Rather than even trying to negotiate with conservatives, these “leaders” just moved lock, stock, and barrel to collude with the left, which loves using Medicare as a slush fund to expand government.

This comes at a time when Johnson and those around him aren’t just trying to get conservatives to accept a continuation of Covid spending binge levels. Instead, they are seeking a continuation of those levels PLUS $100 billion in (unpaid-for) “emergency” spending on Ukraine and other matters PLUS various side deals negotiated between McCarthy and Biden to increase spending further PLUS the $15 billion in spending in this week’s health care legislation.

None of this is conservative — and it sure isn’t leadership either.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.