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Debating Health Care: A Lack of Republican Credibility

The Republican Party's approach to the health care debate has been fraught with inconsistencies and self-defeating posturing.

Warnings about death panels, socialized medicine, and health care rationing aside, when the Senate first took up health care, Republicans first argued that the Democrats' health care bill threatened seniors by cutting Medicare spending. This seems strange because Republicans commonly talk about the need to curb spending, especially as it pertains to government programs. One would think Republicans would embrace decreasing Medicare spending.

Next, when the Democrats reached a tentative compromise allowing people over 55 to buy into Medicare (before Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman's about face), Republicans complained that the Democrats wanted to grow government and increase spending by adding more people to the same inefficient government program they just warned seniors the Democrats were going to cut.

And in terms of process, when the first health care vote took place in the Senate just to allow debate, Republicans unanimously voted against it. In other words, they didn't want to debate it at all. But if they had better ideas for health care reform, why would they want to end the debate before they even had a chance to articulate their principles and attempt to get some of their ideas into the bill?

Curiously, now that it's time to vote on whether to end debate, Republicans are again unanimous in their opposition. In other words, they don't want to end the very same debate they didn't even want to begin a few weeks earlier. But since they have already committed to not supporting a bill that the Democrats have enough votes to pass, why would they want to drag the process out indefinitely at the expense of handling other important business?

And finally, over the overall course of the health care debate, rather than offering amendments to make the bill more to their liking, they decided to marginalize themselves by sitting the debate out by opposing everything. They have even taken to engaging in absurd practices designed to delay the process, such as having amendments hundreds of pages long be read aloud. As a result, they showed that they cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith. Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse called Republicans out on this on the Senate floor:

The unsavory legislative process may have made Democrats look divided or perhaps unethical because of the dealmaking that took place behind the scenes and because of how difficult it was to bring moderate Democrats on board. However, Republicans have marginalized themselves by making hypocritical arguments and not displaying a level of maturity towards the process of actual governance.

Despite the bill's shortcomings, should the Democrats pass health care, it will be a significant legislative achievement for President Obama and the Democratic Party. However, as the New York Times' Russ Douthat argues, Republicans had many chances to steal this issue from the Democrats when they had Congress and the White House during George W. Bush's presidency. Their failure to solve this problem using their own ideas when they had the votes allowed the Democrats to have the chance to solve it themselves.

In politics, it is rare to beat something with nothing. And to the Republicans' discredit, nothing is exactly what the Republicans have offered during the course of this debate.

Of course, given the absurdity of the delay tactics senators can employ, the disproportionate power of small states in the Senate, the abject selfishness of some senators and congressmen, and the practice of cutting deals that force some states to subsidize other states shows how dysfunctional the American system of government has become.

6 comment(s):

John B said...

I think the Republicans may have won. They've added SO much crap to the bill, that even if it is passed, it might make things worse. Then they'll sit back and point the finger and say, "See? We told you it would fail!"

Anthony Palmer said...

Mr. Bailey,

I think that despite the garbage that was added to the bill, I think the two biggest selling points of the bill are that pre-existing conditions can no longer be used to deny coverage and that you can no longer lose your coverage because of an illness.

However, because of the unsavory nature of this process, I would not be surprised if a credible third party emerged that focused on basic competency and decency in governance.

John B said...

They have. The tea party people, LOL

S.W. Anderson said...

Well said, Anthony, but here is the biggest inconsisency of all.

I watched C-SPAN Monday afternoon as one GOP senator after another, including South Carolina's throwbacks to a time that never should've been, held forth on the coming catastrophe. To hear these public-policy Titans tell it, milk is going to curdle in cows' udders, children's growth will be stunted, the debt is going to explode, the earth beneath us will open up and swallow us all, and that will be a blessing when the sky falls — all because Obama and the Democrats are going to pass the tattered remnants of their health care reform bill.

But here's the thing. If Republicans really believe the Democrats' plan is going to be so terrible for everyone and everything, they would want to see it pass. They would've said:

"We don't like this very much, but the people have spoken. They elected Obama, they want a public option. So be it. In the spirit of bipartisanship, we won't filibuster this, we'll even toss in some votes for it. We just reserve the right to say we told you so when it turns out badly."

Then Republicans, secure in the knowledge Democrats' health care reform will be all the bad things they predict, could go home for the holidays jubilant at the prospect of dissatisfied voters turning to them in a few years for better leadership.

In fact, Republicans did no such thing. This leads me to believe that despite all their predictions of disaster and doom, they're scared as hell the Democrats' health care reform will work tolerably well, and that the public will be grateful to Democrats for having delivered on their promise to finally bring it about.

What's more, I think Republicans are scared spitless that even a moderately successful health care makeover with considerable federal participation will provide an object lesson in government being helpful and reasonably efficient at meeting a major public need, thereby neutralizing decades of right-wing badmouthing about government being the problem, not the solution, never getting anything right, always costing too much, etc.
Good to see another post, Anthony. Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the new year be good to you.

Khaki Elephant said...

Anthony, I obviously disagree with many of your points. The Republicans voted against "debate" because they knew they would not be part of the actual dialogue. As it turns out, they were right. And as for "adding things to the bill" it was not the Republicans who added vote payoffs like $100-$300 million to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La) for her yea vote on the bill . . . interesting since the first Louisiana purchase only cost Americans $15 million. To quote Congressman Bart Stupak (a Democrat from Mich): “This shouldn’t be a bill where you use hush money. This isn’t an appropriations bill where you try to get the best projects for your state. In the House, we need to bring equity back into the process. We need to cut out those sweetheart deals. my reservations are growing.” This is such a great bill that Obama & co. have to buy off their own party. Of course, it could be that they were buying votes because nobody had actually read the final version, which wasn't released until 40 hours before the actual vote. (the bill on the floor still contained the public option).

Of course, Republicans are also outraged that the democrate have done something that we haven't seen in 200 years of legislation: change the senate rules within a single bill to require a super majority to repeal certain parts of bill. One such part was Section 3403, the "Independent Medicare Advisory Boards" that are listed in the bill that. Oh, we all know these boards are not are not "Death Panels," they are simply panels to decide whether or not health care benefits will be provided to medicare patients who don't meet their criteria, criteria similar to transplant list markers where poor health and old age will eliminate you from the treatment list . . . nothing like a "Death Panel" at all).

Oh, I could go on, but this isn't actually why I'm writing.

Anthony, I wanted to wish you a happy holiday season, my friend. and I hope the New Year fulfills any promise that it offers to you.

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