The Dangerous Stuff Hidden in the Stimulus Bill

While quibbling over minor matters, Republicans missed an opportunity to challenge larger items in the stimulus package that will reverse welfare reform and could lead to healthcare rationing.

The economic stimulus bill is most likely to become law Monday, when President Obama is expected to sign it in a prime-time televised appearance. House and Senate Republicans nicked the proposal here and there. Ultimately, however, they didn't have the votes.  But could they have done better with a better strategy?  Only now, when the bill is about to become law is the really "dangerous" stuff coming to light.  

By "dangerous", we mean health-care reforms that could lead to rationing. Betsy McCaughey reveals that Tom Daschle may be gone, but his love for the British national health system -- and its biases against the elderly ill -- remains alive in the stimulus package.  

Even more disturbing is the undoing of one of the most successful policies of the '90s -- welfare reform:  There is language in the bill that gives states incentives to allow their welfare rolls to grow -- exactly the opposite of the financial incentives that the 1996  welfare reform law  introduced.  

Under the provisions in the stimulus bill, states will once again be paid a bounty for expanding their welfare rolls. As reported by Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, the federal government will now pay states 80 percent of the cost for each new family they sign up for welfare. That means that states will get $4 for every $1 they spend. This will leave the main welfare program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), with a funding mechanism similar to the one that supports Medicaid. As Brian Blase argues here, Medicaid’s funding ratio, which gives states $1 to $3 for every dollar they spend, has caused state Medicaid spending to skyrocket. If Medicaid’s dollar-for-dollar model has proved ruinous, Obama’s new $4-to-$1 ratio for welfare will prove, in all likelihood, four times so.

This is big, society-changing stuff -- just as the original welfare reform was. This is the line where Boehner should have chosen to fight, rather than focusing on money spent on contraceptives,

To let this welfare un-reform pass by, with nary a peep from the House or Senate Republicans, is an abdication of their role as the opposition party. Absent an attempt in the Senate to filibuster the welfare provisions -- with a goal of getting them stripped out of the final bill -- these measures will become law.

If nothing else, the GOP can learn from this. When future big-ticket items come down the road, choose the battle wisely -- go for strategic critiques rather than tactical ones. Some philosophical battles are more important than others. They need to be fought, yes, but not merely for short-term political gain, but also to make aware a public that often has little clue as to what is actually hidden in these legislative behemoths.

Robert A. George is a New York writer and stand-up comic.  He blogs at Ragged Thots .

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