Late last night, congressional negotiators revealed the long-awaited omnibus spending bill. The mammoth legislation came in at 4,155 pages and allocated $772.5 billion in spending for domestic initiatives and $858 billion for defense.
On Monday, Politico reported that the omnibus would include provisions ending a requirement that states keep ineligible Medicaid beneficiaries on the rolls, effective April 1. Congress enacted the requirement in March 2020, and the Biden administration has continued to extend the public health emergency started by the federal government at the outset of the Covid pandemic despite President Biden previously declaring the pandemic to be “over.”
A primary reason for the constant extension of the state of emergency was to enable the government to finance an ever-increasing amount of Medicaid recipients. Expanding programs like this is one of the main objectives of the welfare-industrial complex.
However, in exchange for an end to this eligibility requirement — which was designed to be temporary and should have ended months, if not years, ago — Republicans had to agree to use the “savings” to permanently expand Medicaid eligibility and potentially help pay for a round of Medicare and Medicaid payment increases to doctors and hospitals.
The timing of this nascent “deal” seems particularly questionable. With Republicans regaining control of the House of Representatives in January, lawmakers could force votes in both chambers early next year on terminating the public health emergency. (Previously, Republicans only had the ability to demand a vote in the Senate.) Such an effort would likely force Biden to veto legislation ending an emergency for a pandemic he already called “over.”
Why would Republicans cave mere weeks before gaining an additional leverage point? The answer appears both cynical and obvious.
A Corrupt Bargain
Consider the following quote from “a Senate Republican aide” in the Politico story:
Because Democrats are squeamish about this, they will use it to drive a hard bargain. Their support and openness to it is clearly contingent on reinvesting the savings into Medicaid permanently. The question is: Can they get enough wins to take the political sting off, allowing states to kick people off the rolls?
When analyzing the obtuse nature of the Senate aide’s remark, it makes little difference. First of all, why would any Republican staffer talk (even if only on background) to a publication that consistently shows political bias and advocates for left-wing causes?
Second, note that the Republican aide spends the entire quote analyzing the policy from the Democrats’ perspective. Why does the Republican staffer appear more concerned about giving Democrats a win than enacting good policy — or, heaven forbid, actualizing Republican prioritizes and inserting them into this legislation?
Third, the aide speaks the language of the left when talking about “reinvesting the savings.” The last time I checked, “investing” in government-speak means spending someone else’s money. The fact that a purportedly Republican staffer uses such terminology reinforces the old axiom about bipartisanship occurring when Republicans agree to act like Democrats.
And finally, the staffer admits that in exchange for ending a designation that was always meant to be temporary, Republicans must agree to expand “Medicaid in a permanent way.” The staffer admits that this agreement amounts to a defeat to the extent the staffer, or any Republican, actually cares about stemming the growth of the welfare state.
Why would any staffer, no matter their partisan affiliation, not just admit such a stunning defeat but brag about it publicly? Quite possibly because the staffer didn’t have the public in mind when speaking to Politico — not most of the public, anyway.
Appeasing Special Interests
The mentalities of senate staffers, such as the one quoted in the Politico piece, aren’t hard to comprehend. The quote appears to have a non-zero possibility of being aimed right at K Street.
By explicitly admitting the poor nature of the trade-off, the staffer in question has laid down a marker for future employment among the myriad of health care, lobbying, and interest groups downtown. Translated, the subtext of the staffer’s message might be, “Because I cut this bad deal for Republicans, all you medical provider groups got a legislative vehicle to receive the ‘sweeteners’ and other special deals you wanted in this massive omnibus bill. So please remember me a few years from now when I’m looking for you to pay me $300,000 or $500,000 per year to lobby my former colleagues on your behalf.”
That this staffer spoke to Politico — the epitome of K Street corporatism, where lobbyists pay tens of thousands of dollars annually for subscription services with the latest Capitol Hill gossip — reinforces the crony corruption behind much legislation in Washington. As cynical as it sounds, those thoughts permeate the minds of many staffers on Capitol Hill, although few would be bold enough to say as much outright.
And for those of you wondering, yes, lobbyists get paid ridiculous sums to make their pleadings before Congress. Unfortunately, taxpayers (read: you and me) get stuck with the tab for this and many other bad deals made by the anonymous staffer.
This speaks to the problem in Washington that this omnibus, like other massive bills, rammed through Congress, epitomizes.