One thing's for certain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) are brilliant politicians. The two sent a joint letter to President Obama last week officially refusing to nominate any members to the Independent Payment Advisory Board panels — more salaciously referred to as the 'death panels' — but their stalling will have no economic or policy impact.
This is a symbolic gesture and it's political gold.
During the intense and ugly politicking around Obamacare's 'death panels' took center stage as Republicans' campaign to defeat health care reform. The IPAB is a panel that was stipulated to decide which programs are cut once health care spending starts to get out of hand.
The IPAB was included in Obamacare to appease the public perception that the Affordable Care Act could be an unmitigated money-guzzling monster. It is only "needed if Medicare costs are projected to go beyond economic growth plus an additional percentage point in any given year," according to Allison Hoffman, UCLA Assistant Professor of Law.
However, Republicans framed the panel in a masterstroke, as 'death panels' by painting a scenario where the most affected will be grandmas who supposedly won't be able to receive the life-saving benefits owed to them.
Even though that was patently untrue the Republicans succeeded in shaping public opinion and outrage around that narrative and 'death panels' took off.
Painstaking negotiations at the time increased the solely White House appointed 5-member panel to 15 members to be appointed equally by the House, Senate, and the White House. All members would require Senate confirmation as well. Now McConnell and Boehner are choosing to not nominate any people to the board as a sign of protest against the program.
The Roll Call's Emily Pierce has the letter sent to the President by McConnell and Boehner where they restart the death panel narrative: "[health care] decisions which impact America's seniors will be made in the absence of the democratic process." This is genius political maneuvering because the panel does not even need to be effective in 2013. Medicare costs are not growing fast enough to require the panel's existence this year.
McConnell and Boehner are generating traction in the press through coverage and reviving the death panel debate without creating further economic problems or impacting any Medicare programs.
The Brain would have been so proud.