Medicare slush fund shows Obama's abuse of power

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President Obama regularly misuses executive power, often nakedly in the service of his political interests.

Last week, two examples of his imperial ways drew public attention. First, a Government Accountability Office study knocked the Department of Health and Human Services for inappropriately spending Obamacare money to delay the law's politically dangerous Medicare cuts -- until after the election. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans complained on the House floor about IRS harassment of Tea Party groups.

Here's the Medicare slush fund story:

In 2010, Democrats were crowing that Obamacare would reduce the deficit. Under official budget scoring, the bill's $940 billion in new spending over a decade was more than paid for by a trillion dollars in new taxes and spending cuts.



Obamacare got some of its alleged savings by cutting Medicare spending by $500 billion. Republicans -- hypocritically, given their constant attacks on "government-run health care" -- made political hay over the Medicare cuts. Republicans know that seniors vote, and they like their Medicare.

Specifically, 12 million seniors use a program called Medicare Advantage, under which the government pays private insurers to cover seniors.

Medicare Advantage customers typically have more options, and at times more coverage, than standard Medicare customers. But the Obama administration said Medicare was overpaying the private insurers, and so the architects of Obamacare slashed $136 billion from Medicare Advantage to offset the cost of Obamacare.

The Medicare Advantage cuts were to begin in 2013, which would cause many insurers to pull out of the program, thus driving seniors into regular Medicare. So much for "if you like your plan, you can keep it."

The New York Post's Benjamin Sasse and Charlie Hurt explained the awkward details of timing: "Open enrollment [for 2013 Medicare Advantage] begins Oct. 15, less than three weeks before voters go to the polls." So Obamacare would kick seniors out of their Medicare program three weeks before Obama's re-election.

That, of course, would be politically damaging. So Obama simply took $8.35 billion from a Obamacare fund for "demonstration projects" and used it to delay the brunt of the Medicare Advantage cuts until after the election.

The GAO last week pointed out the extraordinary nature of this "demonstration." The program "dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations -- both mandatory and discretionary -- conducted since 1995," the GAO stated.

And the GAO made it pretty clear that this slush fund trick looks little like a "demonstration" of anything. "The design of the demonstration precludes a credible evaluation of its effectiveness," the GAO report stated, concluding it is "unlikely that the demonstration will produce meaningful results."

But the Obama administration is looking for a different sort of "meaningful results" -- more votes on Election Day. So the Department of Health and Human Services stood firm when the GAO recommended scrapping this spurious demonstration.

The administration's sleight of hand on Medicare Advantage fits a pattern of Obamacare provisions that were abandoned when they were shown to be unworkable. What makes the Medicare gambit more distressing is that Obama is using taxpayer money for political purposes.

Here's the Tea Party-IRS story:

More than 60 Republican congressmen last week sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service charging that Tea Party groups across the country were being "harassed" and "stonewalled" by the agency. Rep. Tom McClintock described a group in his Northern California district that easily obtained nonprofit status from the state government but got nowhere with the feds.

The list of demands, as described by McClintock on the House floor, sounds like political bullying: "The IRS demanded the names of every participant at every meeting held over the last two years, transcripts of every speech given at those meetings, what positions they had taken on issues, the names of their volunteers and donors, and copies of communications they had with elected officials, and on and on."

In the light of these reported IRS attacks, all of Obama's political enemies have reason to worry. For instance, when Obama calls out by name Republican donors, and when his campaign posts online dossiers of these private individuals, what are they up to? Obama pretends he's battling special interests. Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel, though, aptly called this government "intimidation." Is a visit from the IRS next?

Obama at his inauguration promised to tap the "better angels of our nature." But also on the campaign trail in 2008, he warned, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." It turns out that his "gun" is the U.S. government.

Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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