I got sucked into watching Monday's D.C. Council hearing on the demise of the United Medical Center by the entertaining mix of hypocrisy and histrionics we have come to expect.

You had Councilman Marion Barry sputtering and badgering at attorney general Peter Nickles, who dared to point out that Barry had voted against funding a hospital for poor people. "How disrespectful," Barry muttered. "Can't say that. Not true."

Health committee chair David Catania gamely tried to hush the old bull. "I don't want you interrupting the witness," he said. Barry muttered away.

Then Catania hectored his favorite target, Chief Financial Officer Nat Gandhi.

Later in the hearing Barry told Nickles to shut up.

"I have a First Amendment right to speak," Nickles said, "and I intend to exercise it."

Putting the Constitution and hypocrisy aside, I was left with a queasy feeling when the hearing ended. The city got rooked -- again -- this time for more than $80 million.

In the unraveling of the United Medical Center hospital deal, there is a loose string. Give it a tug and you can see the half-baked dreams, liberal guilt, bets on the come and the kind of funny money accounting that led the District to the financial control board and near bankruptcy 15 years ago.

Here are the facts: In 2007 the District forked over $79 million to Specialty Hospitals of America to run Greater Southeast Hospital. The hospital was a mess at the time, operationally and fiscally. It was and still is the city's only full service hospital east of the Anacostia River, where most of our poor folks live. The city had recently shuttered D.C. General, which poor people saw as a slap in the face. Then Greater Southeast went into bankruptcy.

David Catania to the rescue! The chairman of the council's health committee helped engineer the deal whereby a private company -- Specialty -- would use taxpayer funds ($79 million) to refurbish the hospital into a "state of the art" health care facility. Damn the balance sheets and Specialty's own financial problems.

No matter that Gandhi predicted disaster at the time. Don't do it, Doctor No advised. The city paid and paid -- until last week, when Specialty defaulted again on its payments, and the city took control of the hospital. It was a great day, Nickles said, as he thanked Catania, Gandhi and finance chair Jack Evans.


Evans was the only one who made some sense. "Now that we own it," he asked, "how will it affect the 2010 budget?"

Gandhi guessed about $1 million a month. Evans said: "We don't have it." Evans, you might recall, is the lone council member to vote against the budget.

Gandhi's accountants plan to reach into the city's contingency fund for another $26 million to keep the hospital afloat.

This is what makes me queasy. The city has borrowed to the hilt and drained its savings. And now we own a public hospital.

Can you say -- good money after bad?

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at ">hjaffe@washingtonexaminer.com