Morgen on February 24, 2010 at 11:05 pm
The stage is set for a day of compelling drama for the – let’s be honest – relatively small number of Americans who have followed this debate closely enough to be interested in six hours of healthcare policy talk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure millions of people will tune in throughout the day. Mostly out of curiosity, expecting to see partisan fireworks. But while I am sure there will be some lively exchanges, I think anyone expecting a day of non-stop flame-throwing is going to be disappointed. The toxic partisanship we hear so much about is largely a media construct. As the President’s meeting with House Republicans a few weeks ago demonstrated, members of congress will almost always debate in a cordial and respectful manner, even over an issue as contentious as this.
It is not a secret that the President and his allies intend to portray Republicans as having no meaningful ideas to address the health system challenges predefined by the White House (cost control, insurance reform, deficit reduction, expanded coverage). Of course this is not actually the case, but Republicans need to resist being dragged into the weeds on this discussion, and instead put the President and the other Democrats on the defensive as much as possible by focusing attention on the most unpopular aspects of their bill.
Not only is the majority of the public behind them on this, but the simple fact of the matter is that thanks to a mostly cheerleading media, Democrats have not had to defend some very obvious problems with their proposals. For starters Republicans could point out that more than one of the “revenue provisions” violate the President’s campaign pledge to not raise taxes on those earning less than $250K per year. And how can Democrats possibly defend the fact that their plan only achieves budget neutrality by pairing 10 years of taxes with 6 years of spending?
The Democrats’ plan is especially weak on cost control. The excise tax on high cost insurance plans was about the only meaningful cost control device left, and the President’s compromise proposal just delayed this until 2018. Long after he would be out of office even if he wins a second term. And of course this deferral was a transparent concession to the unions.
The individual mandate is very unpopular, and it would not hurt to remind the public that the President campaigned against it in the primary race against Hillary Clinton. And shining some light on the kabuki Democrats have in mind related to abortion funding is an especially good idea.
I could single out other items – in fact Republicans could probably spend the entire meeting challenging the President on his misrepresentations of the bill if they wanted to. But the bottom line is that for numerous reasons, Democrats do not even have the necessary support within their own party to pass this bill. Republicans have nothing to lose by making it crystal clear that the only way they will support any healthcare reform effort is if the existing bills are scrapped and the process is re-started. This time on a genuinely bi-partisan basis, and focused on a much narrower, and less costly set of goals.
I am actually quite optimistic that Republicans will perform better than expected at this meeting, and not because I think they will have much success in controlling the narrative as I’ve advised here. (The President is presiding over this meeting, after all.) The more people know about the Democrats’ bill the less they seem to like it, and with the additional exposure from this summit it could very well wind up being less popular than it already is. Conversely, Republicans actually do have some really good ideas. After eight months of endless lecturing by Democrats on the superiority of their plan, the public might just be looking for a fresh perspective. And I would not be surprised if a certain rising Republican star is shining even brighter after tomorrow.
Tune in if you can. We will try to post some comments throughout the day, especially if there are any notable developments.