The GOP Health Care Blunder

Jonathan Chait at The New Republic explains why the Republicans are the losers of the health care reform debate:

The United States is on the doorstep of comprehensive health care reform. It’s a staggering achievement, about which I’ll have more to say later. but the under-appreciated thing that strikes me at the moment is that it never would have happened if the Republican Party had played its cards right.

At the outset of this debate, moderate Democrats were desperate for a bipartisan bill. They were willing to do almost anything to get it, including negotiate fruitlessly for months on end. We can’t know for sure, but Democrats appeared willing to make enormous substantive concessions to win the assent of even a few Republicans. A few GOP defectors could have lured a chunk of Democrats to sign something far more limited than what President Obama is going to sign. And remember, it would have taken only one Democrat to agree to partial reform in order to kill comprehensive reform. I can easily imagine a scenario where Ben Nelson refused to vote for anything larger than, say, a $400 billion bill that Chuck Grassley and a couple other Republicans were offering.

But Republicans wouldn’t make that deal. The GOP leadership put immense pressure on all its members to withhold consent from any health care bill. The strategy had some logic to it: If all 40 Republicans voted no, then Democrats would need 60 votes to succeed, a monumentally difficult task. And if they did succeed, the bill would be seen as partisan and therefore too liberal, too big government. The spasm of anti-government activism over the summer helped lock the GOP into this strategy — no Republican could afford to risk the wrath of Tea Partiers convinced that any reform signed by Obama equaled socialism and death panels.


The Republicans eschewed a halfway compromise and put all their chips on an all or nothing campaign to defeat health care and Obama’s presidency. It was an audacious gamble. They lost. In the end, they’ll walk away with nothing. The Republicans may gain some more seats in 2010 by their total obstruction, but the substantive policy defeat they’ve been dealt will last for decades.

[Emphasis mine]

Had just a few Republicans negotiated in good faith, the GOP could have had substantial influence on health care reform.

Instead, they followed the lead of the tea partiers and devoted themselves wholeheartedly to obstructionism. So, the Democrats found a compromise that worked for them and are now poised to pass health care reform, on their own, without a single Republican vote.

Democrats will get all of the credit for taking steps to reform our broken health care system, while the Republicans will be seen as having stood in the way of substantial progress. And, as Chait said, while the GOP’s just-say-no strategy may win them a handful of seats in 2010, the positive effects of Democratic health care reform will last much, much longer.

The GOP followed the tea partiers and opposed the economic stimulus package–the same stimulus package that ended the recession and improved the job market. They followed the tea partiers again and opposed health care reform, even though the Senate compromise will reduce the deficit by $132 billion and provide coverage to 31 million Americans who currently lack it.

When will the GOP learn that they’re following the tea partiers right over a political cliff?  The Republicans may pat themselves on the back for opposing  health care reform, but how proud can they really be of fighting to preserve a broken system? And will they realize their mistake when they wake up and still find themselves in the minority on November 3, 2010? What about November 7, 2012?

When will Republicans learn that ‘just say no’ isn’t a viable political strategy? How many years will they remain in the minority until they learn that, at some point, they’re actually going to have to stand for something?


One comment

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