Slapping lipstick on the pig

During the presidential primaries of 2008 and throughout that year's election campaign, Barack Obama spoke out against his predecessor's go-it-alone strategy that alienated allies and antagonized opponents.

Yet merely one year into his presidency, Obama's "damn the torpedoes" approach to his No. 1 domestic priority -- radically changing the nation's health care system -- has managed to offend and turn off nearly three-quarters of the American people and has some of his biggest boosters screaming in rage. Because, as the president himself put it, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still just a pig."

The president is demanding the U.S. House of Representatives pass the Senate health care bill by March 18. At a recent press conference, a follow-up to his health care summit that changed almost no minds, he made the same claims that have been thoroughly dismissed by the American people as highly improbable, if not untrue.

"If you like your insurance you can keep it," he said. Except for the 10 million American seniors who have a Medicare Advantage plan.

Acknowledging the blatant unfairness of allowing 880,000 Florida seniors to keep their Medicare Advantage benefits unchanged, while forcing cuts in subsidies to nearly all the rest, the president now wants to take away that special gift to residents of the Sunshine state. If people would really be able to "keep what they have," why would he need to strip the provision? And what will happen to the seniors -- a disproportionate percentage of whom are low income and non-white -- and the coverage they have now?

Employees and families of smaller businesses will find the same kinds of changes under the health care bill. While touting how current plans are "grandfathered," the president chose to omit that regulations will make it next to impossible for employers to stay in one of those plans. For any change to their current health plan, whether it be deductible level or scope of benefits, the law will demand that they comply with new federal regulations.

Lambasting the insurance industry -- the same people who did everything but set up tents on the White House lawn within a few weeks of the inauguration to help write the bill and cut deals with the president -- is now the de rigueur message for Obama.

But even a cursory look at the Congressional Budget Office analysis of both the House and Senate bills paints the real picture: Cuts in Medicare Advantage "overpayments" will be more than offset by direct insurance company subsidies. In the Senate bill, these direct taxpayer payments to private insurers will be $210 billion this decade. In the House bill, the numbers are even more damaging -- $370 billion. No wonder a prominent health care lobbyist echoed the president in December by proclaiming "we won."

Accounting tricks that would make any self-respecting accountant blush are the foundation for the mendacious "cut the deficit" claims of the health plan. No one believes that the 30 million Americans whom the president says will gain insurance -- a far cry from the Democrats claim a year ago that their bill would provide insurance for 47 million -- will mean spending less.

Real people, who pay local and state sales and property taxes, who see their children's schools push "budget overrides" seemingly continuously, understand the claim cannot be true. Pretending that "cutting the deficit" means spending less or cutting costs, is putting "lipstick on the pig."

Even more incredulous is the statement that fees to doctors for actually providing health care services can be excluded from cost calculations. The CBO estimates that including the payments to providers it will cost $230 billion more, turning the already suspect $130 billion in deficit reduction into $100 billion in increases.

And, of course, there are taxes on "high value" health plans, disregarding that the vast majority of those with more expensive plans make under $250,000 per year. While the tax increases will be delayed past his presidency, those families ultimately will see their taxes go up. Taxing insurers, device manufacturers and increasing the cost of business for hospitals and providers will result in hidden taxes on all Americans, regardless of income. Dumping 15 million more Americans on Medicaid, even with temporary federal government assistance, will mean higher and new local taxes, along with service cuts.

Mr. President, you campaigned on the promise of creating an era of bipartisanship. Outside of Washington, you have succeeded. Americans from every walk of life are united against this bill. It is beyond any hope of being made pretty with lipstick, a new dress and claims of "great personality." Please listen to the American people: start over, and please spend some time and energy focused on the real crisis in America today. Vice President Biden had it right: it is a four letter word, J-O-B-S.

J.C. Watts (, chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group, is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal.

Glenn Cook is on vacation.