A stroll down memory lane

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE…. Lately, the complaints from opponents of health care reform have been almost entirely about process. Republicans have decided they don’t like reconciliation or the self-executing rule anymore — they loved it when they were in the majority — and the debate over how Dems are working on health reform passage has become nearly as important as whether Dems pass it or not.

But if Republicans wants to talk about process, we can talk about process.

Let’s look back at 2003, when the Republican House and Republican Senate worked on Medicare Part D — a bill Karl Rove saw as a way of creating a “permanent” GOP majority — which was the biggest expansion of government into the health care industry in four decades.

The bill — written behind closed doors with lobbyists — came with a price tag of $1 trillion, despite leaving a “donut hole” that undercut the needs of millions of seniors. How did Republicans pay for it? They didn’t. GOP lawmakers, with the Bush administration’s blessing, financed the bill entirely — literally, 100% — through deficit spending, leaving future generations to pick up the tab.

But that’s not the most interesting part. Consider what happened the night of the vote on the House floor.

A 15-minute vote was scheduled, and at the end of 15 minutes, the Democrats had won. The Republican leadership froze the clock for three hours while they desperately whipped defectors. This had never been done before. The closest was a 15-minute extension in 1987 that then-congressman Dick Cheney called “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.”

Tom DeLay bribed Rep. Nick Smith to vote for the legislation, using the political future of Smith’s son for leverage. DeLay was later reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee.

The leadership told Rep. Jim DeMint that they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina if he didn’t vote for the bill.

The chief actuary of Medicare, Rick Foster, had scored the legislation as costing more than $500 billion. The Bush administration suppressed his report, in a move the Government Accounting Office later judged “illegal.”

If you don’t remember hearing about this much at the time, you’re not alone — the media decided this wasn’t especially interesting. After all, even though Dems were beside themselves, reporters were certain “everyone knows” process stories aren’t important.

And yet, words like “reconciliation” and “deem and pass” are now all the rage — both among Republicans who made a mockery of the legislative process when they worked on health care, and among reporters who seem to find controversial whatever Republicans tell them to find controversial.

Now, it’s not enough to say, “Republicans were worse.” Democrats vowed to do better.

But therein lies the point — Dems have done better. While Republicans worked on expanding the government’s role in health care with almost comical corruption and abuses, the current health care reform process, while hardly perfect, has followed the rules and been largely above board.

A little something to keep in mind while the GOP and its media allies are hyperventilating.

Update: An alert reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, emails to remind me of another detail: the Republican leadership ordered that C-SPAN turn off the cameras while arms were twisted, so GOP leaders’ corruption wouldn’t be seen on television. Try to imagine what the reaction ould be if that happened with now with Pelosi.