Trent Franks’ short memory

TRENT FRANKS’ SHORT MEMORY…. Six years ago this month, the floor of the U.S. House was the scene to one of the more embarrassing moments in the history of the institution. It was when the Republican majority brought Medicare Part D up for a vote.

GOP lawmakers saw Medicare’s long-term finances as a problem, and decided to make matters worse with a new drug benefit. Every penny of the program — which costs hundreds of billions of dollars — was simply thrown onto the deficit, and Republicans were deliberately lied to about the cost (the Bush administration literally threatened officials who considered telling Congress the true price tag).

When the vote was scheduled, the bill was defeated — so GOP leaders kept the vote open for hours, bribing members to change their minds. Humiliated, Republicans demanded that the C-SPAN cameras be turned off, so Americans couldn’t watch the soul-crushing antics.

Bruce Bartlett reflects on this today, calling it “one of the most extraordinary events in congressional history.” Of particular interest is Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, one of just three Republicans who were convinced to switch their votes, from Nay to Aye.

Like all Republicans, [Franks] has vowed to fight [health care reform] with every ounce of strength he has, citing the increase in debt as his principal concern. “I would remind my Democratic colleagues that their children, and every generation thereafter, will bear the burden caused by this bill. They will be the ones asked to pay off the incredible debt,” Franks declared on Nov. 7.

Just to be clear, the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway with a gross cost greater than either the House or Senate health reform bills how being considered. Together the new bills would cost roughly $900 billion over the next 10 years, while Medicare Part D will cost $1 trillion.

Moreover, there is a critical distinction — the drug benefit had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit, whereas the health reform measures now being debated will be paid for with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, adding nothing to the deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Maybe Franks isn’t the worst hypocrite I’ve ever come across in Washington, but he’s got to be in the top 10 because he apparently thinks the unfunded drug benefit, which added $15.5 trillion (in present value terms) to our nation’s indebtedness, according to Medicare’s trustees, was worth sacrificing his integrity to enact into law. But legislation expanding health coverage to the uninsured — which is deficit-neutral — somehow or other adds an unacceptable debt burden to future generations. We truly live in a world only George Orwell could comprehend when our elected representatives so easily conflate one with the other.

It’s easy to forget — some of us would like to block the memories from our minds — but the Republican majority in Congress from 2003 through 2006 was so comically awful, it made many reasonable observers question whether the American experiment was really a good idea. The vote on Part D was a genuine embarrassment to the institution.

With that in mind, seeing Franks whine now, after having switched his vote six years ago, is a reminder of the ridiculous amount of chutzpah some of these members have. Just shameless.