Republicans have a great opportunity on February 25. President Obama, not so much. The White House, buoyed by rave reviews of the president’s recent appearance before a resistant crowd of House Republicans, has in effect challenged the GOP to a verbal battle over health care – televised before the American people. (It should be noted that, given the magnitude of the drubbing handed the administration in recent months, simply arriving on time and avoiding a teleprompter failure would have constituted a major victory.) Because nothing in D.C. can take place these days without the absolute maximum of political horseplay, both sides are skirmishing over the forum for the health care debate and the guest list, with the GOP complaining that they were invited to the party barely an hour before Obama went public with the plan – not exactly good manners, and a possible “gotcha” moment.
No matter. The gathering will present GOP leaders with an opportunity to convince Americans that they do have a health care program, that they are not simply the party of no and that they can engage in a constructive dialog. The White House (and the media) has consistently refused to air Republicans’ proposals to reform our insurance and medical industries – mainly because politically it has been easier to deride the minority party and also because Democrats don’t like their ideas. Here’s the problem for the White House: voters do like their ideas, because they focus on reducing costs. Americans are sympathetic to those without health insurance, but they are also wary of the expense of covering 30 million additional people in a time of economic distress.
The Republicans have asked President Obama to “start over” with a fresh take on the bill, a request the administration has so far rebuffed. Instead, the White House wants to modify the existing health care bill—the Senate version – which is a non-starter for Republicans and voters. It is inconceivable that an intelligent remake of that ghastly, conflicted, complicated legislation could be any more effective or satisfying than trying to patch a dinghy that’s been rotting in the weeds for a quarter century. It is way better to scuttle the wreck and start fresh.
Jeffrey Anderson, director of the Benjamin Rush Society, offers a template for a Republican health care proposal in the latest edition of The Weekly Standard. He calls his suggestion The Small Bill – and indeed it is a one-page product (admittedly in fairly small type) of seven points aimed at reducing our nation’s medical bill and also providing our most needy citizens with care.
The ideas include, among others, preventing “runaway” malpractice lawsuits, allowing Americans to buy insurance across state lines, offering lower premiums for healthy lifestyles, and amending the tax penalty on those who are self-insured or not insured.
The ideas in the Short Bill are logical, easy to understand and generally popular. Most importantly, the proposal has been “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office, that arbiter of fiscal sanity, and – drum roll – shown to not increase our deficit, to cost a mere $180 billion over 10 years compared to the Senate bill’s cost of $2.5 trillion, to not increase taxes and to insure an additional 10 million people.
I strongly recommend that Republicans focus on just such a compact, sensible bill when they meet with President Obama on February 25. It would be very hard for the administration to convince voters watching television that the Senate bill-- which stinks of bribery and favoritism like anything else that emerges from a swamp – is a winner.
Liz Peek is a financial columnist and frequent Fox Forum contributor. Read more at LizPeek.com.