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The Thugs are Back in Town

Update: Several Republican Members of Congress are beginning to call the Democrats out over this. Congressman Dave Camp wants to know why the White House is censoring companies – especially while leaving supporters of the president’s plan alone. And Mitch McConnell is calling out Democratic colleague Max Baucus.

I’ve not had the chance to comment on this yet (except on Twitter), but the thuggish tactics of the Democrats in Washington are getting harder and harder to ignore. I’m prompted to the comment by the audacity of Senator Max Baucus and the HHS to start censoring political speech that they disagree with:

The Obama administration warned insurance companies Monday that they could face legal action for allegedly trying to scare seniors with misleading information about the potential for lost benefits under healthcare legislation in Congress.

“As we continue our research into this issue, we are instructing you to immediately discontinue all such mailings to beneficiaries and to remove any related materials directed to Medicare enrollees from your websites,” said a notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid…

In one case, the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees the agency, launched an investigation of Humana Inc. after getting a complaint from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a lawmaker usually viewed as a reliable ally of the insurance industry. Baucus also put together the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the healthcare bill.

So Baucus (and other Democrats) are pushing for a health care overhaul that depends on dramatic Medicare cuts to bring down the cost. The Medicare providers (the insurance companies) believe that taking hundreds of billions out of the system just might impact care for seniors – so they warn them of the fact. And rather than respect respect the right of companies to speak to their customers, or respect free speech generally, Democrats are turning to blackmail to shut these companies up.

But this isn’t the first time this has happened this year – not by a long shot:

The Politico, August 21:

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman raised eyebrows this week when he launched a financial probe into the nation’s largest insurance companies, which are at the center of the health reform battle…

“Congressional oversight is not a tool that should be used to chill dissent,” said AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach. “These investigations are nothing more than politically motivated, taxpayer-financed fishing expeditions designed to intimidate and silence health plans…”

A month later, Zirkelbach said, Waxman asked the 52 companies for information about what meetings employees attended, where they stayed, and what they ate, and “details about employee compensation far beyond what was asked of companies participating in the TARP program.”

Reuters, July 30:

“It’s almost immoral what they are doing,” Pelosi said to reporters, referring to insurance companies. “Of course they’ve been immoral all along in how they have treated the people that they insure,” she said, adding, “They are the villains. They have been part of the problem in a major way.”

Roll Call, June 30:

After pressure from Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) senior committee staff, the Laborers’ International Union of North America has done an about-face and will pull its television ad buy targeting Baucus and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) starting Wednesday.

The Politico, June 27:

The Senate Finance Committee is pressuring hospitals and insurers to follow the lead of the pharmaceutical industry and pony up to help pay for health reform, industry insiders say…

“They are shaking people down, and it’s fair to say that includes a broad range of health care stakeholders,” said a health care industry insider, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly without fear of retribution. “They’re playing hardball, and they’re serious about it.”

Roll Call, June 11:

Top aides to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) called a last-minute, pre-emptive strike on Wednesday with a group of prominent Democratic lobbyists, warning them to advise their clients not to attend a meeting with Senate Republicans set for Thursday. Russell Sullivan, the top staffer on Finance, and Jon Selib, Baucus’ chief of staff, met with a bloc of more than 20 contract lobbyists, including several former Baucus aides. ‘They said, “Republicans are having this meeting and you need to let all of your clients know if they have someone there, that will be viewed as a hostile act.”

Congressional Quarterly, June 12:

According to the lobbyist, Selib said: ‘I’m a Mets fan, and as you know, the Mets and Yankees hate each other. And you have to decide, are you for the Mets or the Yankees?’

June 11:

Max Baucus tells CBO representatives ‘you’re not God’ when it comes to estimating the costs of the president’s health care overhaul. He tells them to be ‘ever more creative’ to find the savings ‘we have to have’ to pass the president’s plan:

The Politico, May 26:

After word leaked that a North Carolina insurance company was planning Web videos critical of President Barack Obama’s proposal for a public health insurance plan, the White House health reform czar had the company’s chief executive on the phone explaining himself…

And not long after the phone call between Nancy-Ann DeParle and Bob Greczyn of BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, the company dropped its plans to post the anti-public-plan videos on the Web, DeParle and a company spokesman told POLITICO.

It says a lot about how bad this health care bill is that Democrats have overwhelming majorities in both Houses, they’re suppressing dissent and silencing critics, and still they can’t get it passed. I wonder in particular, if people like Max Baucus realize that 5 years from now – when he next seeks re-election – this plan will have just taken full effect (assuming it passes). With its mandates, and rationing, and Medicare cuts, it’s not going to be popular.

Does Baucus really look forward to his opponent reminding people of just how ruthlessly he pushed it through? It’s not likely to win him any votes.

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