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.