A few years ago in Harrisburg, in the middle of the night, lawmakers secretly gave themselves a huge pay raise. The action was strongly condemned, and many lawmakers returned those raises.

The action by the state lawmakers at the time was, in the view of many taxpayers, akin to the old Charlie Pride song, "The Snakes Crawl at Night."

Again that song comes to mind seeing what happened at 1 a.m. Monday in Washington D.C. That's when the U.S. Senate met going to the Capitol building in the darkness of night and pushed through their version of a health care reform bill. Not even a snowstorm could keep our elected officials from pulling off an overnight political coup devoid of any semblance of Democratic process.

The Senate's version of the Health Care Reform Bill is not exactly the same as the one passed by the House of Representatives several weeks ago. Added to the Senate version were 383 pages of changes. The changes are mostly pork barrel items; things sought by individual lawmakers, many of them directing money explicitly to programs or projects in their home states.

As an example, Democrat Christopher Dodd of Connecticut is seeking $100 million of taxpayer dollars to construct a university hospital in his home state.

Or consider these concession made for a Nebraska Senator to persuade him to vote on the bill:

Ÿ The federal government will pick up the full cost of a proposed expansion of Medicaid, at an estimated cost of $100 million over 10 years.

Ÿ Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska will be exempted from an annual fee on insurers; the exemption could also apply to nonprofit insurers in other states, possibly including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Ÿ Supplemental "Medigap" policies such as those sold by Mutual of Omaha are exempted from the annual fee on insurers, something that would help other companies selling such policies.

Ÿ A physician-owned hospital being built in Bellevue, Neb., could get referrals from doctors who own it, avoiding a new ban in the Senate bill that will apply to hospitals built in the future.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican, called the action by his peers yesterday morning, "one of a great Bernie Madoff gimmicks that anybody's ever seen."

The health bill, which is likely to pass since Republicans might not have enough votes to stop it, had little public input, no hearings, and complete disregard for the public as evidenced by the way it was pushed through. Obviously, as columnist Cal Thomas wrote, "there was more than one snowstorm this weekend in Washington."

Opinion polls show Americans don't want the plan that federal lawmakers plan to shove down our throats. The plan requires every American whether you can afford it or not to purchase health insurance whether you can afford it or not.

If you don't buy health insurance, you'll be penalized with a tax. It doesn't sound like a process associated with a Democracy.

Stock prices of insurance companies are rising tremendously in anticipation of the windfall Congress is providing to them. But the rising stock prices are any indication of economic recovery. It just means that one segment of industry is going to capitalize tremendously as a result of midnight shenanigans by conniving lawmakers.

Are any of our elected officials capable of thinking for themselves and their constituents – instead of going with the party flow?

Only time will tell, but things appear darker in Washington now than they did at 1 o'clock yesterday morning.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com