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Lame-duck congress set to pass 1,000-pg health care spending bill

Conservative Review

The bipartisan groups of big spenders in Washington couldn’t even give us a break for Thanksgiving.

Late Friday afternoon, House GOP leaders released a 1,000-page health care spending bill that will grow the already-bloated National Institutes of Health (NIH), create a new spending stream outside of the traditional budget norms, and increase federal involvement in healthcare. This bill has become a catch-all omnibus health care spending package and a magnet for every lobbyist on K Street. Yet, rather than cancelling the lame duck session and saving this endeavor for a new GOP mandate next year, House Republicans plan to drop this complex, multifaceted bill on the floor on Wednesday.

These people never learn. Then again, after cramming through leadership elections before we could even digest the general election results, there is nothing the membership can do now to replace leadership.

Worst of all, at a time when Republican health care committees should be focused on an immediate plan to FULLY repeal Obamacare, why are they focusing on growing the federal footprint in health care?

Despite all the hand-wringing about partisan fighting in Washington, the “21st Century Cures Act” is a quintessential example of the two liberal parties coming together to grow the federal government, increase rather than decrease spending, give handouts to all their respective lobbyists, and sell the bill as the next step to curing cancer. In short, it represents everything wrong with Washington.

The $6.3 billion package contains $4.8 billion in extra funding for the NIH to further research cancer, brain cells, and precision medicine. It also gives the FDA another $500 million to move drugs and medical devices to patients more quickly, and a billion dollars in grants to states to combat the “opioid crisis.”

As is always the case, the bill’s authors have concocted a hodgepodge of notional accounting gimmicks to “pay for” the cost of the bill. Not a single government program is eliminated to offset the cost of this new spending; rather the bill relies on receipts from selling off our Strategic Oil Reserves over ten years to pay for this bill. Using the Strategic Oil Reserves as a private piggybank to pay off lobbyists in order to grow government has become the new go-to source for “spending offsets.”

The House already passed a previous version of this bill in July, 2015, but the new version has tripled in size. At the time, 70 conservatives opposed the bill. The primary sponsors are Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. (F, 34%), Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. (F, 14%), and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. (F, 15%).

There are a couple of other basic problems with this bill and its entire approach:

  1. The entire premise of throwing more money into the one trillion dollar Department of Health and Human Resources and expecting it to result in cancer cures smacks of a liberal mindset —the same mindset that has created this federal leviathan. Why not double or triple the budget of the NIH if that translates into saving lives? And no, this will not be a one-time expenditure. Although the original bill was modified so that there is no longer a new mandatory funding stream—outside the reach of the appropriations process—for these NIH programs, the new bill will result in essentially the same outcome. It creates a trust fund for these programs with its own funding instead of drawing on the same pot of money as any other discretionary program. While it requires an annual appropriation to draw from the trust fund, there is no way anyone will rescind it in the future. This is as permanent as it gets in Washington.
  2. This is an omnibus bill that now contains any provision with the word “health” pasted onto the title. It has tripled in size since it was originally introduced. It contains some promising provisions on cutting some red tape at the FDA and some reforms to HIPPA, but there is no reason they should be tied to a bill that spends more money and grows government. Why not address those issues in a conservative health care bill from a position of strength next year with a Republican in the White House?
  3. While it sounds nice to throw one billion dollars at states to deal with the epidemic of Opioid use, does this really address the source of the problem? According to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 99.8 percent of methamphetamine and 99.9 percent of marijuana seized by law enforcement in 2015 came from our southern border. The drug problem has been inextricably linked to the border problem. While we will never keep drugs out of this country entirely, building the security fence, particularly in the Tucson sector, in addition to destroying the drug cartels operating on our border, will go a long way in slowing the flow of dangerous substances. 

In light of these priorities from GOP leaders in charge of health care policy, does anyone have faith they will fully repeal Obamacare?

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