JONATHAN COHN SEPTEMBER 20, 2010
When health care reform passed, I was quietly grateful for many things. Mostly, I was grateful that people I cared about would get needed help. Yet I was quietly grateful for other things, too. For example, the close of that legislative battle relieved me of the daily sense that I should really be checking up on the ungracious, often-dishonest Wall Street Journal editorial page. Subsequent legislative and political battles have presented many disappointments. Not the least of these is that I now feel I should be checking up on them again.
This weekend's 223-word entry reminds me why. Here are the guts of what they wrote:
You can do a lot with 59 Senate votes, and that was certainly clear this week as Majority Leader Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats slammed the door on a bipartisan attempt to repeal ObamaCare's new 1099 reporting requirement on small business.
Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns's amendment lost 46-52, as Mr. Reid kept most of his Members together in favor of requiring businesses to report to the IRS annual purchases from any contractor above $600….
This issue is certain to return in the next Congress, but the defeat is an object lesson in the power of the majority to thwart even popular measures….
Readers may remember that I've been a little worked up about this issue, since Republicans wanted to finance the repeal of this provision by zeroing out the public health and prevention fund. In brief, the Affordable Care Act raised $17.1 billion by imposing new paperwork requirements on small businesses that improve tax compliance but create administrative burdens. This problem required an administrative fix--partly because it is a real problem that requires an administrative fix, partly because it ticks off an influential interest concentrated and affluent constituency.
Believe what you will about the substance of this issue. Here is Ezra Klein reporting what actually happened in that vote:
The Senate considered two different proposals to reform that law today. One, from Bill Nelson, would've exempted purchases of less than $5,000 (which is 90 percent of them) and paid for the lost revenue by cutting oil and gas subsidies. Another, by Mike Johanns, would've repealed the provision entirely and paid for it by cutting spending on public health and weakening the individual mandate. Both failed. Nelson got a majority, but his 56 votes weren't 60 votes, and so they were meaningless. Johanns got only 46 votes.
But here's the kicker: The votes were almost perfectly opposite. Look at the roll call for the Nelson amendment and the roll call for the Johanns amendment. Nelson's 56 ayes included zero Republicans. Johanns's 46 ayes included seven Democrats. So though both amendments were designed to do the same thing, there was very little overlap among their supporters…
Got that? The Nelson Democratic bill would have exempted purchases of less than $5,000 (and firms employing less than 25 people) from the 1099 requirement. It would have addressed the legitimate issues small business people raised. It got 56 votes. It failed because Republicans had the forty votes required to block it. A more accurate summary of what happened would be: "the defeat is an object lesson in the power of the minority to thwart even popular measures…"
Here is the real kicker. The Wall Street Journal's editor never mentions the Nelson bill at all. The dishonesty is rather astonishing, even from them.
Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.