The GOP’s health-care fantasyland
Seven years ago, Republicans passed and approved a massive new health-care entitlement. The prescription drug benefit cost for seniors is likely to cost $1.2 trillion over ten years. Although libertarians and conservative activists despise the legislation, I don’t have a problem with it. Enabling seniors to buy prescrption drugs has saved and extended lives, such as my late grandaunt Dottie’s and perhaps some of your relatives as well. Yes, the benefit is expensive, and that means the government can’t spend money on other necessary things. But the bill helped ensure President Bush’s re-election in 2004, and if you’re a social conservative like me, that fact sure beat the alternative.
This week, Democrats are certain to pass and approve their own massive new health-care entitlement. The response from Republicans: the health care bill is the end of the world! Newt says it won’t stand. McCain wants to repeal it. Even Paul Ryan, the doyenne of Sam’s Club Republicans, calls for repealing the law bill, though he doubts it can be repealed.
Republicans’ opposition to heath-care reform isn’t serious. It’s based in political fantasy. For one thing, conservatives neglect their own role in making the legislation possible. As Daniel Larison points out,
Elections do have consequences, and this bill is one of them. I hope all the Iraq war supporters on the right are pleased with what they have wrought. These Democratic majorities and the Obama Presidency would have been inconceivable had the previous administration not taken the country to war in Iraq and destroyed their party in the process.
Saying that Republicans destroyed their party by supporting the Iraq War strikes me as an overstatement. But certainly the political damage they incurred was a consequence of Kar Rove’s think-big-and-be-bold-baby! strategy.
If backing the Iraq War was the GOP’s political sin of commission, failing to devise a serious counter-proposal about health care is its sin of omission. Republican leaders and activists argued for starting over from scratch or “tort-reform-plus interstate insurance.” Given the real problems in the health care system, those proposals were unlikely to carry the day. Republicans offered nothing about preventing insurers from denying patients coverage based on pre-existing conditions and offered little about expanding access to health insurance. Rep. Ryan and others have put forth serious counterproposals, but Republican leadership and activists kept them at arm’s length.
Republicans will benefit this fall from the health care votes. They may take back one branch of Congress (the House), though taking the other as well (the Senate) strikes me as a reach. But their analysis of and solutions to health care reform don’t inspire confidence about their future endeavors, whether the issue is creating jobs or reforming entitlements. It’s not that Republicans lack good ideas about domestic reform. It’s just that these Sam’s Club policymakers aren’t the party’s leaders or activists.