Published October 02, 2009
Even as Republicans pummel President Obama's health care proposals, some GOP leaders worry their party is being hurt by a Democratic counterattack: Where is your plan?
Republican leaders chose not to draft their own comprehensive bill, focusing instead on attacking Democrats' plans as too costly and bureaucratic. Some prominent Republicans now fear they are getting tagged as the "party of no," and they want the GOP to offer more solutions to the nation's health care problems.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential GOP presidential contender in 2012, said it's time for Republicans "to pivot and say, in addition to emphasizing what we oppose, here are our proposals" for health care. The two parties can agree on some important improvements, he said in an interview Thursday, but Democrats must trim their proposed costs.
Democrats, meanwhile, see a rare chance to go on the offensive in the debate, which has sometimes seemed dominated by fiery attacks on Obama's proposals.
A new CBS-New York Times poll found that only 14 percent of Americans think Republicans have clearly explained their plans to change the health care system, while 76 percent do not. Obama's numbers were better, though not stellar: 37 percent yes, 55 percent no.
Aware of the criticisms, House Republican leaders have compiled lists of bills and principles that various colleagues have offered this year. Most are narrowly focused, although a 268-page bill by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., covers an array of health care topics.
Democrats scoff at the Republican proposals, calling them skimpy outlines that would do little if anything to make health care more affordable and efficient. The Republicans' repeated calls for health-related tax cuts, without credible spending cuts to offset them, would dramatically increase the deficit, Democrats say. They note that no major GOP proposal has been subjected to scrutiny by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which has given cost estimates for the Democratic proposals.
Speaking to union activists recently about health care, Obama taunted his Republican critics. "What's your answer?" he asked. "What's your solution?"
"You know what?" he continued. "They don't have one."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Friday that Republicans have not offered their own bill because "we're not in the majority. The majority has the responsibility to go forward."
Republicans will offer numerous amendments, including efforts to limit medical malpractice suits, when a health care bill reaches the Senate floor this month, he said.
Privately, Republican lawmakers have debated the pros and cons of offering their own comprehensive legislation in the Democratic-controlled Congress. A leader on the issue, Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said on June 17, "I guarantee you, we will bring you a bill that costs far less, far less than the Democrats' and will provide better results for the American people."
A month later, Blunt seemed to have changed his mind.
"Our bill is never going to get to the floor," he wrote in a blog, "so why confuse the focus? We clearly have principles; we could have language, but why start diverting attention from this really bad piece of work they've got to whatever we're offering right now?"
Eventually, other Republican leaders in Congress agreed with that analysis.
Several Republicans in Congress have introduced narrow bills -- many calling for tax cuts -- that have gone nowhere in Congress and generated scant notice. Party leaders have not associated themselves with Price's multi-pronged bill, perhaps the most ambitious of all those drafted by Republicans.
That's just fine with some conservative activists.
"We have plenty of time to work next year on sensible and targeted health reform in a bipartisan way," Weekly Standard editor William Kristol recently wrote. "But first we need to get rid of Obamacare."
With Republicans offering few detailed ideas, some Democrats have ascribed sinister motives. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., caused an uproar when he said in a House speech that Republicans want sick Americans to "die quickly."
Perhaps the most comprehensive list of GOP health proposals is in the "Republican Solutions Handbook" assembled by the House Republican Conference, although it covers only one page.
The first two items in this Republican plan would pursue long-standing conservative goals: limit medical malpractice suits filed by "overzealous trial lawyers" and devote more resources to stopping "waste, fraud and abuse" in Medicare and Medicaid.
Proposed tax cuts, meant to help Americans buy health insurance, would go to workers without employer-provided health plans and to low-income people. The GOP plan also would encourage businesses that provide health insurance to automatically enroll all employees, who could opt out if they wanted.
Blunt's official Web site lists more than 20 bills introduced by Republicans, which have virtually no chance of passage. Some touch on the same topic, such as reining in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Several call for tax cuts. One, by Rep. Edward Royce, R-Calif., would allow up to $500 of unused benefits in a health flexible spending account to be carried to the next year without tax penalties. Another would allow tax breaks on insurance premiums for long-term care.
Such bills are neither comprehensive nor offset by spending cuts or revenue increases, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a member of the House Democratic leadership team.
Republicans "are afraid to put anything on the table," he said, "because the American people would see it doesn't address the problem."
Van Hollen predicted the Republicans will fail if they think they "can beat something with nothing."