March Of The Hypocrites

No, not a new name for a hot band (though it isn’t a bad one, in that regard). I’m talking about the members of congress who voted for George Bush’s Medicare Part D plan in 2003, but who are opposing the current health care legislation on the grounds that it would “balloon the deficit.” It’s a pretty funny list (in a sickening sort of way – literally), if you look at it from today’s vantage point. I won’t print out the list for the House, since it’s a couple-hundred names long, but since there are only 100 Senators, and since the current battle over health care is in the Senate, here are the names of Senators who voted “aye” to Medicare, Part D. Names of Senators no longer in office are in italics. Names of the (very few) Democrats who supported the bill are in bold.:

Alexander (R-TN)
Allard (R-CO)
Allen (R-VA)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Breaux (D-LA)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burns (R-MT)
Campbell (R-CO)
Carper (D-DE)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Cochran (R-MS)
Coleman (R-MN)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeWine (R-OH)
Dole (R-NC)
Domenici (R-NM)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Fitzgerald (R-IL)
Frist (R-TN)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Jeffords (I-VT)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Lugar (R-IN)
McConnell (R-KY)
Miller (D-GA)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Nelson (D-NE)
Roberts (R-KS)
Santorum (R-PA)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Smith (R-OR)
Snowe (R-ME)
Specter (R-PA)
Stevens (R-AK)
Talent (R-MO)
Thomas (R-WY)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (R-VA)
Wyden (D-OR)

What emerges is a pretty striking picture of a group of fake fiscal conservatives who are opposed to spending money on the full faith and credit of the United States government when it’s proposed by a Democratic administration for domestic improvements, but who’ve no problem doing so under Republican administrations, or when the money’s to be used for war.

Obviously, since this was a GOP initiative put forward by the Bush White House, most of the “yea” votes are Republicans, so it follows that most of the no-longer-serving are also from the GOP. But, if anything, the GOP has gotten ostensibly MORE “conservative” since that time. Of the Republican Senators on that list who are no longer serving, most were either replaced by actual Democrats (Norm Coleman was replaced by Al Franken, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois was replaced by a young chap named Barack Obama – you might have heard of him, etc.), or by Republicans of equal or greater wingnuttery than the Senators they replaced (Bill Frist was replaced by Bob Corker, etc). In other words, where the GOP held seats, they did so with more-conservative Senators than were present for the 2003 vote for Medicare, Part D.

Conservative economist/writer Bruce Bartlett notices this, and contrasts it against the stern-talking anti-deficit faces many of these same GOP Representatives and Senators are now presenting to the media and the public, as they piously tut-tut against “the Democrats’ unprecedented expansion of government and ballooning of the deficit.” Bartlett, one of the authors of Reaganomics, goes on the warpath again against these self-styled GOP “deficit hawks,” scorchingly calling them out for the hypocrites they are:

…Republicans seem to genuinely believe that they are the party of fiscal responsibility. Perhaps at one time they were, but those days are long gone…

Recall, too, that Medicare was already broke in every meaningful sense of the term. According to the 2003 Medicare trustees report, spending for Medicare was projected to rise much more rapidly than the payroll tax as the baby boomers retired. Consequently, the rational thing for Congress to do would have been to find ways of cutting its costs. Instead, Republicans voted to vastly increase them–and the federal deficit…

Just to be clear, the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway with a gross cost greater than either the House or Senate health reform bills how being considered. Together the new bills would cost roughly $900 billion over the next 10 years, while Medicare Part D will cost $1 trillion.

Moreover, there is a critical distinction–the drug benefit had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit, whereas the health reform measures now being debated will be paid for with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, adding nothing to the deficit over the next 10 years, according to theCongressional Budget Office. (See here for the Senate bill estimate and here for the House bill.)

Bartlett goes on to say – he is here talking about GOP Representative Trent Franks, but he could be speaking about all the currently tough-talking GOP congresscritters who voted FOR Medicare Part D but oppose the current health care bill – the following:

…he apparently thinks the unfunded drug benefit (Medicare Part D), which added $15.5 trillion (in present value terms) to our nation’s indebtedness, according to Medicare’s trustees, was worth sacrificing his integrity to enact into law. But legislation expanding health coverage to the uninsured–which is deficit-neutral–somehow or other adds an unacceptable debt burden to future generations. We truly live in a world only George Orwell could comprehend when our elected representatives so easily conflate one with the other…

The national debt belongs to both parties. But at least the Democrats don’t go on Fox News day after day proclaiming how fiscally conservative they are, and organize tea parties to rant about deficits, without ever putting forward any plan for reducing them. Nor do they pretend that they have no responsibility whatsoever for projected deficits, at least half of which can be traced directly to Republican policies, according to Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag.

It astonishes me that a party enacting anything like the drug benefit would have the chutzpah to view itself as fiscally responsible in any sense of the term. As far as I am concerned, any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt.

Bartlett doesn’t talk much about the Democrats’ role in the 2003 vote on Medicare Part D, which is a shame. I’d be interested to see whether he thinks that the majority opposition among Democrats was a result of principled opposition to such irresponsible adding to the nation’s deficit at a time when Medicare was already essentially broke, or merely a case of “they’re for it, so we’re against it.” I suspect it was probably some of both. I base this upon the observation that Democrats have worked very hard – some would say even too hard – to make the current health care plans deficit-neutral or better. That speaks to their fundamental desire to not simply spend irresponsibly. And, as Bartlett himself has pointed out on other occasions, both the deficit and the national debt have risen much faster under Republican Presidents and Congresses – as a whole – than Democratic ones. And yes, there was probably some plain-old political contrarianism.

But mostly, I’d have been interested to hear what Bartlett would say about the few Democrats who bucked the party orthodoxy on this vote and sided with the Republicans to increase the national deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars. If you whittle out all the retired Senators and Republicans, you’re left with a pretty short list, but a list which looks eerily familiar, in light of who’s arguing what positions today regarding the current health care bill:

Baucus (D-MT)
Carper (D-DE)
Conrad (D-ND)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Nelson (D-NE)
Wyden (D-OR)

Like I said, an interesting list. Ron Wyden and Byron Dorgan are the only two anomalies, and I don’t know why they voted the way they did. Each has been a strong supporter of the current health care reform legislation also, so it may simply be a case of them believing that health care is in crisis, and that fixing it even trumps fiscal concerns like making it deficit-neutral. I just don’t know. But other than those two, we’ve got Baucus and Conrad – the gruesome twosome of the finance committee, who were primarily responsible for making sure that despite the committee having a prominence of Democrats on it, the health care bill they put forward would be decided by a “bi-partisan” group of six – three Democrats (two of them Conrad and Baucus) and three Republicans.

In addition to those two, there is Dianne Feinstein, one of the most “conservative” Democrats in the Senate currently, and then, of course, the squeaky-wheel triumvirate of Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson – each of whom had to be extensively bribed by Harry Reid to even get them to vote for cloture to allow debate to begin on the health care bill, and who are still sucking up all the airtime they can get their grubby mitts on, shouting loudly that they still might stand with the Republicans in a filibuster of their own party – a move so unusual that it is literally unprecedented in the history of the Senate (there have been filibusters aplenty in the Senate, and plenty of instances of members of one party voting the opposite way from most of the rest of their party on a given piece of legislation, but there has never, not once, been an instance of members of the majority party crossing party lines to support a filibuster of their own party’s legislation).

In fact, the only surprise on this list is the absence of Holy Joe Lieberman, another currently-infamous Senator who’s appearing literally everywhere these days, claiming that he will filibuster health care legislation if it includes a public option. However, timing is everything. In 2003, Holy Joe was just as much of a soulless hack as he is today, but at that time, he believed his bread was buttered by (and he owed his seniority to) the Democratic caucus. He was already against the Democrats on the Iraq war…and probably (in his heart, at least, if not in his actual votes) on much more. Lieberman was already trying to self-aggrandize and burnish his “independent” credentials by appearing regularly on Hannity’s and O’Reilly’s shows on FOX, piously tut-tutting his fellow Democrats about how soft-headed they were on terrorism and the Iraq war…but when it came time to vote on a party-line issue like Medicare Part D, for which Lieberman saw no personal upside to being contrarian, he simply voted the way most Democrats did.

What a difference six years makes. Since then, Lieberman has been primaried by a real Democrat (Ned Lamont in 2006) and lost, switched his party affiliation to the “Connecticut for Lieberman” party (no, really!), and now caucuses with the Democrats only because he knows that the Republicans would have no use for him. Now, he’s not only a self-aggrandizing snake in the grass with few if any principles, he’s also got old scores to settle with the party that he feels has wronged him by not standing up even more vigorously for him in his losing primary bid, while he stabbed them in the back on FOX News. So it’s no wonder Lieberman’s vote changed in the interim: he’s simply being pissy…that, and, of course, the fact that Connecticut is the virtual center of the universe for the insurance industry in America. Go figure.

But, all in all, we’ve got some of the most “conservative” Democrats in the party, both then and now, voting for Medicare Part D – which added its entire cost straight to the federal deficit – and against the current health care legislation, which pays for itself through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases (plus the premium revenue of the enrollees in the public option) and thus is deficit-neutral (or better). And, at the same time, as Bruce Bartlett observes, we’ve got Republicans, who claim perennially to be the party of “fiscal disclipline” voting the same way – for Bush’s unfunded Medicare Part D, and against the current legislation. Bartlett’s conclusion was that no one who votes in such a manner can credibly call themselves a “fiscal conservative,” and I agree. I do not believe that the Republican party of today resembles what are generally touted as conservative principles, especially in the economic arena.

But I also believe that something additional can be said about the so-called “conservative Democrats” or “conservadems” or “blue dogs” who are given SO much column-space and air-time (because, with the entire GOP caucus firmly against reform, their few votes could literally be the difference between passage and failure). Just one of these so-called conservadem Senators could literally decide the health care future of over 307 million Americans for at least the next decade (or whenever the political stars next align to allow any sort of reform of the health care debacle in this country to be addressed in congress). And so I think it’s probably long past time to start saying that one thing about these so-called “conservadems”; to start calling things – and people – by their right names, and act accordingly.

As the ranks of the uninsured rise at a rate matched only by the cost of health care in this country, I think it’s now well past time to look at these so-called conservatives in the Democratic party and recognize, as Bartlett does with the Republicans hypocrisy on the “fiscal conservative” claim, that these Democrats are clearly NOT “conservatives” in any meaningful sense of the word. The term “conservadems” or even just “conservatives” is a misnomer when applied to them. However, because both in 2003 and again today, these Senators are aligned not with their own party, but instead united with the opposition in faux “fiscal conservatism,” there IS another label that can credibly be applied to them, and it’s long past time we started doing so.

They can be called Republicans.

The Democratic party had better realize that it’s not antithetical to the notion of a “big tent” to identify the people within their caucus who are literally members in all but name of the opposition party, and to oust those members with primary challenges from strong, principled Democrats who may not vote the party line on every single issue, but who won’t consider blocking their party’s signature piece of legislation by joining the minority party in a procedural parlor-trick which prevents a vote from being taken. Any Democrat who does that is not a Democrat, literally. And it’s time we started referring to them thusly. Today. And acting accordingly.