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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Smart Bombs: McCain wastes a good idea

The debate over health care reform keeps getting wackier.

The first amendment out of the chute in the U.S. Senate would protect Medicare from spending reductions, which are needed to help pay for the near-universal coverage plan. U.S. Sen. John McCain led the charge, noting:

“All of these are cuts in the obligations that we have assumed and are the rightful benefits that people have earned. … I will eagerly look forward to hearing from the authors of this legislation as to how they can possibly achieve half a trillion dollars in cuts without impacting existing Medicare programs negatively and eventually lead to rationing of health care in this country.”

But as the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn points out, this is a total reversal from presidential candidate McCain. In 2008, McCain proposed to pay for his health care plan in part with $1.3 trillion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts over 10 years. Was this to be a reduction of “rightful benefits”? Not according to his senior policy adviser at the time, Douglas Holtz-Eakin. He told the Wall Street Journal this would be accomplished by eliminating unspecified fraud.

“It’s about giving them the benefit package that has been promised to them by law at lower cost,” Holtz-Eakin said.

Ah, the same benefits at a lower cost. If that sounds familiar, it’s because President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are now saying the same thing, except they go into greater detail. They point to the Dartmouth Health Atlas data that show that one-third of health care spending goes to unneeded tests and unjustifiable procedures.

But let’s say there really is that much fraud. Where’s the amendment that would zap it?

McCain was right to target that spending, even if he couldn’t identify the waste in detail. He was also on the right track with his idea to tax certain health benefit packages to help pay for expanded coverage. Obama bashed that as a candidate. He’s since backed down. That’s because it’s a smart cost-cutting tool. If “Cadillac” plans are taxed, then there is less incentive to offer them.

But Republicans are already saying any tax increase is a bad idea. Maybe McCain can explain it to them.

Trigger happy. Abortion has rushed the health reform stage, so why not gun rights? Gun Owners of America is asking members to oppose the reform, because gun ownership could be deemed one of the risky behaviors that government would try to regulate in an effort to control costs. No bill says that, but it could happen, right?

Well, anything is possible. Government could put strict limits on the use of motorcycles, sports cars, cell phones, skateboards and trampolines. After all, those could lead to unhealthful outcomes. But does anyone really believe this?

In truth, what reformers hope to do is encourage healthier choices related to exercise and diet. Those are sensible ideas that shouldn’t trigger opposition.

You don’t say. Via the Health Care Blog, I see that Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, has announced that the Senate bill doesn’t go far enough in controlling costs: “Health costs will continue to weigh down the economy and place a crushing burden on employers and families.”

How is this different from saying, “We’ve failed at controlling costs, so government should”?

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.
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