Hundreds gathered in a park across from the Capitol Tuesday to hear Tea Party and conservative leaders describe a dystopian future that awaits if President Barack Obama's health care reform law is left in place.
“In the future, you see, we will not be electing a president. We will be electing a health care dictator," Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) warned the attendees, who traveled to the Washington event from Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states to proclaim their opposition to the law. Protesters held aloft "Don't Tread On Me" banners, American flags, and signs with messages like "NYET COMMIE CARE."
Speakers including Tim Phillips, president of the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, and leading conservative lawmakers like Bachmann and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) bemoaned the law's individual mandate as an unconstitutional intrusion by the federal government. “If government can tell you what to buy in terms of health insurance, what’s next?" said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.).
The activists and politicians on stage might not have known it at the time but just hours before, conservative Supreme Court justices hammered away at the Obama administration's legal defense of the law and cast in doubt the future of the law's individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to obtain health coverage or pay a tax penalty starting in 2014. The Supreme Court on Tuesday held the second of three days of hearings on a lawsuit brought by 26 states and other plaintiffs contending the health care reform law is unconstitutional. A ruling is expected by the end of June.
Americans for Prosperity and allied conservative organizations including Tea Party Express and Concerned Women for America staged the event to coincide with the Supreme Court's action. It followed a rally opposing the health care law Saturday and an event held by supporters outside the Supreme Court yesterday.
Although Tea Party supporters may have some of the same problems with the health care system as the law's backers, many don't support Obama's solutions.
Those who took the stage also issued dire warnings about government rationing of health care services, committees charged with denying care to senior citizens, and trillion-dollar-a-year price tags. None of those things is in the law.
Tracy Walsh, an Americans for Prosperity activist, appeared in a 2010 television ad charging that her breast cancer treatments would have been denied under Obama's health care reform law. “Breast cancer patients like me might not have a choice in our treatments," she said today.
To support this claim, Walsh referred to provisions from the 2009 stimulus bill that established a "council" to distribute $3 billion to study whether one medical treatment for an ailment is better than another. Conservatives have criticized this program as an effort by the government to set rules about, as Walsh put it, "who gets medical treatments and what medical treatments they get.”
The law explicitly says that council is not meant to provide strict rulings on health care: "None of the reports submitted under this section or recommendations made by the Council shall be construed as mandates or clinical guidelines for payment, coverage, or treatment."
Walsh also quoted Obama from a July 2009 interview with ABC News when he said, if the "blue pill works better than the red pill, and it turns out the blue pills are half as expensive as the red pill, then we want to make sure that doctors and patients have that information available to them."
But Walsh did not mention that he also said, "We don't think that we have to impose draconian measures to force patients to use a generic instead of a brand-name drug, for example."
Jim Martin, who is the chairman of the conservative senior-citizens group 60 Plus, likewise levied the rationing charge at the health care reform's Independent Payment Advisory Board. This commission will be charged with presenting Medicare cost-control proposals that will take effect unless Congress passes a substitute.
But the health care reform law prohibits the panel from doing any such thing. "The proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care," raise premiums, increase deductibles or other out-of-pocket costs, limit Medicare benefits, or change the eligibility requirements for the program, the law says.
Republicans in Congress made hay with the Congressional Budget Office's most recent cost estimate of the health care reform law. Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center went a step further today, saying that Obamacare will cost $1.7 trillion a year.
In fact, the CBO now says health care reform will cost $1.08 trillion total between 2012 and 2022. CBO budget analysts note that hundreds of dollars in Medicare spending cuts combined with new revenues from taxes and other sources will more than offset the new spending, meaning the law will reduce the budget deficit.
Bozell also said health care reform has increased health insurance premiums by $2,200 in the last two years. In fact, the total cost of workplace benefits is $11,664 per worker this year, an increase of 5.9 percent since 2011.