By any other name

If it could be proved that the chief executive officer of a major American corporation — a pharmaceutical firm, say, or an insurance outfit — had delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to the governors of two of the 50 states in exchange for two U.S. senators from those states changing their votes and defeating the proposed federal takeover of America’s medical industry, it’s not too hard to imagine the results: the perpetrator led out of his office in handcuffs by the FBI, front-page indictments and trials, commentators reviling the worst case of public corruption to be seen at such a high level in generations.

Yet when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., promised to deliver those sums to Nebraska and Louisiana (and not to the other 48, no credible claim of “the general welfare” here) in recent weeks to buy off Sens. Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson in order to line up the 59th and 60th votes needed to pass the biggest new federal boondoggle in half a century — the Nebraska payoff coming early Saturday morning — he didn’t even try to keep it a secret.

Sen. Reid simply characterized the payoffs as business as usual — a “successful compromise.”

Among the “hundreds of deals cut so health care legislation can stay alive,” The Associated Press reported Monday:

“– Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., got $100 million more for her state’s Medicaid program before announcing her support.

“– Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t get Medicare-for-all, but he successfully pushed a $10 billion increase for community health centers,” and

“– Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., the crucial 60th vote for the bill, won a slew of concessions for his state.”

There’s an understatement. Sen. Nelson was supposedly holding out on a matter of principle — he claims to be pro-life and said he didn’t want the big national medical rationing plan to use taxpayer money to fund abortions. But Sen. Nelson ended up settling for a paper-shuffling solution which will still allow just that to happen — turns out what he really wanted and got was a waiver that says Nebraska will be exempted from paying increased taxes to cover higher Medicaid costs forever.

“Reid feels no shame,” the New York Post editorialized this week. The newspaper quoted Sen. Reid stating, “You’ll find a number of states that are treated differently than other states. That’s what legislating is all about. It’s compromise.”

“No, it’s not,” the Post editorial writers responded. “It’s bribery. This perhaps is understandable (if not permissible) as regards a public-works appropriation bill, but it’s totally beyond the pale regarding legislation meant to transform one-sixth of the American economy.”

Whatever malformed “health reform” creature lurches to its feet when the Democrats are done is likely to suffer further disfigurement under the scalpels and hatchets of the courts. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., has already made noise about a constitutional challenge, primarily whether the government can fine citizens who fail to buy health insurance through the simple expedience of calling the fine a “tax.”

There will go any purported fiscal balance. Of course, no one will any longer be worried about maintaining the convenient fiction that this scheme will somehow “trim medical costs” — other than by letting old people die untreated — at that point.

And now, even if the bill survives that test, the courts will surely be asked, as well, whether the Congress can waive a tax for certain states, thus requiring the other members of the union to pay more than their “fair share.”

For if the Congress can do that, couldn’t the Congress also punish states that voted Republican in the most recent presidential election, by imposing a new tax solely on them, to benefit the states that voted “blue”? What’s the difference?

Cries that a given level of political corruption “threatens to tear the fabric of the union” are often overwrought. This time, maybe not.

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