Leader Blues

Friday, March 26, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Our senators let us down

Senator Mark Pryor is an immoderately gentle and considerate man who often seems out of place in the bruising world of politics. Sometimes he is too considerate and agreeable for his own good.

Thursday, Pryor joined Senator Blanche Lincoln in voting against the reconciliation bill that carried the “fix-it” changes in the historic health insurance reform law that the House of Representatives passed Sunday and that President Obama signed into law Tuesday. The House enacted the Senate health insurance bill only after receiving assurance from a majority of the senators that they would approve a handful of changes in the bill that would be incorporated in the reconciliation bill that the House passed Sunday immediately after the Senate health bill.

Nearly all the 59 Democratic and independent senators committed to vote for the reconciliation bill, which used a parliamentary procedure that allowed the Senate to pass it with a majority vote and prevent a filibuster by the Republicans that would kill health reform altogether. Mark Pryor was among the commitments. As late as Wednesday, he said he supported the reconciliation bill and found all the changes acceptable. He praised the new law as a wonderful thing for the people of Arkansas and he enumerated a dozen or so major improvements in the way Arkansas people access the medical system. He was proud to join his political Arkansas forebears, Senator Joe T. Robinson and Representative Wilbur D. Mills, who were among the architects of Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

Then on Thursday Pryor voted against the reconciliation, along with all the Republicans, Senator Lincoln and Senator Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who had hijacked the original health bill by refusing to give it the critical 60th vote until it was amended to have the rest of the country pay all of his state’s Medicaid benefits for adults. He figured that would raise his stock in Nebraska. The outrage turned much of the country against the bill. The Cornhusker kickback, as it was called, was removed in the reconciliation bill, so Nelson naturally voted against it.

But why Pryor? You had to figure that he did it to give his Arkansas colleague cover so that she would not be sitting out alone with the odious Ben Nelson among the Democrats. Lincoln had voted for the big health insurance bill and had helped write it, but to mollify right-wing critics she said she would vote against the reconciliation bill, which suggested that her real preference was to keep health reform from becoming law. Her public explanation was that she had nothing against the things in the reconciliation bill but that it was crafted without the “transparency” that had characterized the drafting of the original health bill. It was baloney.

So a reporter asked Pryor if he voted no to show support for his beleaguered friend and colleague. It was a factor, Pryor acknowledged, but he actually decided Thursday that there were a few things in the reconciliation bill that he didn’t much like.

For example, he said, the reconciliation bill raised the state’s share of adult Medicaid costs starting in 2010 from 5 percent to 10 percent. (For current Medicaid programs Arkansas has to put up nearly 26 percent of the costs, one of the lowest shares in the country.)
Yes, Arkansas would love 5 percent better than 10 percent, but that changes the Medicaid section of the new law from a stupendous bonanza for Arkansas to a merely incredible one. Hundreds of dollars will flow into Arkansas for the treatment of the working poor and their families, ending the shift of the costs of unreimbursed care at hospitals and doctors to privately insured citizens. So that’s a pretty flimsy excuse, senator.

Well, he said, the reconciliation bill makes rich people start paying the Medicare payroll tax on their unearned income — stock appreciation and the like. That is a negative?

Let’s remember the gallant gesture to a beset lady and forget the excuses.