Kadner: Lipinski on the politics of debt crisis
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org October 15, 2013 5:19PM
U. S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-3rd, Western Springs addresses business and community leaders July 15 in Countryside. | Jane Michaels~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 17, 2013 6:24AM
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) remained hopeful Tuesday afternoon that the country could avoid defaulting on its debt obligations.
“I’m always hopeful,” the congressman told me during a telephone call from Washington, D.C. “But I was hopeful we could avoid a government shutdown until the day it shut down (two weeks ago).”
Lipinski, of Western Springs, is a member of a bipartisan group of House members, which calls itself “No Labels,” that has been trying to work out a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on several issues.
That group, Lipinski said, came up with a compromise to avoid default that eventually was used as a template for a U.S. Senate bill that has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans.
But the Republican-controlled House proposed its own bill, the Senate apparently decided not to vote on its version and as I spoke to Lipinski during the lunch hour Tuesday, it looked like the government was about to launch itself off a cliff.
“I think the agreement our group reached could have passed the House had the leadership called it for a vote,” Lipinski said.
“The key provision for Republicans was a two-year delay in the implementation of a medical device tax under Obamacare. But the Senate Democrats weren’t willing to accept that, and it was dropped from the Senate bill. That likely means it will be unacceptable to the conservative Republicans in the House.”
Those are the Tea Party conservatives who have been opposed to the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
“They needed something to save face with their constituents,” Lipinski said. “And the two-year delay in the medical device tax was it.”
The medical device tax is placed on things such as pacemakers and defibrillators — medical equipment not purchased by individuals but by hospitals.
The initial thought process behind the tax, Lipinski explained, is that because medical device manufacturers would likely benefit through Obamacare by having more people on health insurance, they should pay a tax to help finance the new program. The tax is anticipated to raise billions of dollars.
“But to most Republicans and many Democrats in Congress, the tax just didn’t make sense,” Lipinski said. “It seemed to be a tax on something that was essential to save human lives ... (and) not the best way to raise money for health care.”
He said members of the bipartisan group “really felt that delaying the tax for two years not only made sense, but was the key to getting Republicans to support the bill in the House. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats felt strongly they couldn’t accept that provision.”
Lipinski said his greatest frustration is “with a small group” of Republicans in Congress “who don’t believe they have a responsibility to govern. They seem to believe their primary responsibility is to take a stand against certain things, Obamacare being one of them, no matter what the consequences.
“Most of us feel strongly about issues but feel that our ultimate responsibility is to keep the government running. That’s not the case with these other people. They believe they have a responsibility to pull every lever of government to prevent Obamacare from being implemented.
“I know some of these people very well. Some of them are friends. They are good people. You wouldn’t think they were crazy if you met them. But some of them really believe that Obamacare is the worst thing that has ever happened and that it will destroy the country.”
Lipinski also criticized President Barack Obama for saying he was willing to meet with Republicans and negotiate a settlement to the debt crisis but failing to fulfill that promise.
“Republicans came away from that meeting at the White House feeling that the president refused to negotiate,” he said. “He wouldn’t compromise.”
But if Obama and Senate Democrats seemed unwilling to bend, the conservative Republicans in Congress, a minority in their party, were just as narrow minded.
They demonstrated that by pushing their leadership to back a compromise measure that included the two-year delay on the medical device tax and also a provision that would have eliminated federal health care benefits for congressmen and their staffs.
A previous measure already had prohibited them from remaining on federal insurance programs provided to every other government employee, forcing them to purchase insurance on exchanges created by Obamacare.
The House bill to prevent debt default would have completely eliminated health insurance benefits for congressmen and staff members, a proposal that immediately was rejected by the Senate and never had a chance of passing.
“We should have dealt with all of this months ago,” Lipinski said. “Now, although I still feel we will avoid default, we’re talking about a bill that would only delay things for three months and then we could be back where we started. That’s not the way we should be governing the country.”
Lipinski never has fully endorsed Obamacare and has voiced serious reservations about the program. He believes that, while it provides benefits to millions of people, “as it should since we’re spending billions of dollars on it,” it eventually will run out of money and result in a serious financial crisis.
“The program has problems, and we should have been working to correct those problems,” he said. “It took Democrats a long time to admit that, but many of them are now facing the realities.
“But my view is that you work out those problems, you improve things, you don’t just use every lever at your disposal to throw the government into a financial crisis because you disagree with people.”
Lipinski said House Republicans who have indicated a willingness to negotiate have been told they will face a primary election challenge.
“That’s where we’re at now,” he said. “It’s frustrating and embarrassing. But some of us still have hope.”