The popular 19th century English nobleman, Lord Acton, is perhaps best remembered for the statement: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” History is littered with public figures that are appropriately described by those words. Considering some of the shenanigans going on with the health care legislation in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can certainly be added to the list.

There is no doubt that Reid is in a tough spot. President Obama has stacked up a huge pile of political poker chips, betting on a winning hand on health care reform. He will be harmed politically if he loses, and his fellow Democrats in Congress will feel the collateral damage.

But it is not easy to muster the votes necessary to make significant changes to one-sixth of the U.S. economy — as Harry Reid has learned.

Adding to Reid’s difficulties is the fact that he has to run for re-election next year, and polling data indicate that he is far from being a shoo-in.

The last thing Reid needs is to be a major factor in passing legislation that will push the crumbling budget of the state of Nevada further into the abyss. One of the central features of the proposed legislation could do just that. It would allow millions of individuals whose income levels currently preclude them from qualifying for Medicaid to meet eligibility requirements for the program. But there is a rub: States must put up a 5 percent match to help cover the additional costs.

Reid has made no bones about what he plans to do to avoid any political fallout back home. He has stated unequivocally that he will not allow a health care bill to come to the floor if it increases Medicaid costs for Nevada. He seems to be getting his way. The Senate Finance Committee bill would exempt four states — Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, and (yes) Nevada — from the requirement to pay the 5 percent funding match. The alleged justification for making the exception is that those states have been the hardest hit by the recession.

The Senate should rebel against Sen. Reid feathering his own nest.

Other states shouldn’t have their budgets savaged by another huge unfunded mandate coming down from Washington while watching Reid and a handful of his cronies grin like bandits counting their loot. If states are going to have to be fiscally penalized to make the numbers work for the health care reform legislation, then all states should have to bear the burden.

The health care reform debate is starting to focus attention on what happens when arrogance meets partisanship. It is almost impossible to pass legislation that will cover all of the uninsured, reduce the overall cost of health insurance, and “not add a dime” to the deficit as President Obama promised. There are going to be winners and losers — and some very big losers — if the legislation passes. The likely losers will be young Americans and healthy policy holders who will have to pay much higher costs to insure or subsidize the elderly, the uninsured, and individuals with health problems or unhealthy lifestyles.

The main science driving the health care debate at this juncture is political science. After watching the political class making hash out of health care legislation, voters might want to ponder another quote from Lord Acton: “It is easier to find people fit to govern themselves than people to govern others. Every man is the best, the most fit judge of his own advantage.”

Sen. Reid is living proof of the wisdom in those words.



Dan Juneau is president of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry.

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