“Artificial deadlines”

    On the hilarity meter, Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes is a distant runnerup to John Boehner on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, as the Republican House was gearing up for its vote to “repeal” health care reform – a long-awaited stunt, roughly equivalent on the substance scale to the news that our Zodiac signs may have changed – Boehner said that his party brethren would soon develop their own reform ideas. Indeed, he had directed four House committees to get right to work.But when would the GOP’s bright ideas be translated into actual specific legislative proposals? Here was Speaker Boehner’s punchline response, delivered with a straight face:”I don’t know that we need artificial deadlines for the committees to act.”Quelle surprise! That remark epitomizes the Republicans’ multi-decade non-response to the health care crisis. In translation, it means that the committees will drag things out and do as little as possible. Nothing new there. Republicans have never championed substantive, specific solutions, largely because it’s not in their DNA. Worse yet, they have typically denied that such a crisis even exists.They basically ran Washington during the first decade of the new century, yet even as the crisis got increasingly worse – according to the Commonwealth Fund, the number of underinsured Americans (those whose coverage wasn’t sufficient to protect them from high costs) jumped 60 percent between 2003 and 2007 – Republicans did virtually nothing. President Bush best summed up the party attitude when he said, in July ’07:

    “I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.”So Boehner yesterday was right in character. House Republicans knew they had to throw a bone to the tea-party crowd by making good on their (symbolic) campaign promise to repeal; it was no sweat to sloganeer one more time, the party is brilliant at that. But when it comes to the hard work of governing – in this case, the need to actually replace the health reform law with something presumably more effective – that’s another story entirely. House Republicans really have no clue what to do next. If they did have any such inkling, they would have spent their two years in exile working on their own reform specifics, and readying substantive bills for a timely winter ’11 rollout. But, no surprise, they did nothing. Not a word about how they’d extend coverage to more than 40 million uninsured, or how they’d bar insurance firms from kicking sick people off the rolls, or how they’d help those with pre-existing health woes who have been denied coverage.Instead, they’re passing a non-binding resolution about how those four House panels, acting without “artificial deadlines,” will henceforth kick around the usual broad Republican themes – tax credits, free-market solutions, medical malpractice reform – none of which even begin to address the systemic injustices. Anybody remember what happened in November 2009, when the minority House Republicans served up a cursory health reform plan of their own? The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office checked it out, and concluded that the GOP blueprint would extend health coverage to three million uninsured Americans in the first 10 years – barely keeping pace with population growth – and that it would cut $68 billion from the deficit in 10 years….whereas the ’09 Democratic plan would extend coverage to 36 million people, and cut the 10-year deficit by $104 billion. (The CBO has since upped the projected deficit cuts, under the health reform law, to $140 billion.)No wonder the GOP is in no hurry to get specific about a replacement plan; why risk being embarrassed again? And even if the House Republicans somehow did manage to drill down into the details of such a plan, they may well have trouble uniting all their members. In 2010, a rising Republican star, congressman Paul Ryan, floated a deficit-reduction bill that featured some health reform ideas – namely, a partial privatization of Medicare and Medicaid. Care to guess how many of his fellow Republicans signed on as co-sponsors last summer? Thirteen.Yeah, they do have a few specific ideas. For instance, they want to let people buy health insurance across state lines, as a way to expand choice and competition – so that, for instance, if you live in New Jersey and see a cheap, bare-bones coverage plan in Alabama, you should be free to buy the Alabama plan.The problem is, some states regulate the insurance industry more severely than other states. (This is called state’s rights, a concept that Republicans supposedly embrace.) State insurance officials who vigorously regulate the industry, and who require that the industry offer decent coverage, don’t want to see their bailwicks flooded with lousy coverage plans from low-regulation states. If that race to the bottom ever happened – in accordance with GOP free-market fantasies – you might as well throw out the concept of state consumer protection. And it probably won’t happen anyway; besides, the new health reform law already permits cross-border purchases – coupled with rules designed to protect the consumer.The bottom line is that House Republicans really aren’t serious about replacing what they have symbolically repealed. That kind of governing is way too hard. It’s much easier to just talk about replacement, as part of a messaging plan for the ’12 election cycle. They do that sort of thing quite well – although, even here, they do have some challenges. According to the new bipartisan NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, only 25 percent of Americans believe that the congressional Republicans will bring the right kind of change, only 34 percent view them favorably, and 55 percent believe they’ll be too inflexible when dealing with President Obama; by contrast, 55 percent believe that Obama will strike the right balance with the Republicans, and, most tellingly, Obama’s approval rating is now 53 percent, his highest in 18 months. At minumum, Republicans may well be on notice that Americans in general wish to see substantive replacement ideas, as opposed to the usual protestations of No.After all, the unrepealed health reform law has some alluring consumer-friendly provisions; on the House floor yesterday, one congressman duly listed them: “Making sure people don’t lose their coverage once they get sick; letting dependent children stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26; making sure anyone who wants to buy insurance can purchase a policy, regardless of pre-existing conditions.”So said Joe Heck of Nevada…a Republican.Do the Republicans have any substantive plans to re-enact what their own guy so concisely lauded? Maybe in some distant era. As Speaker Boehner pointed out, there’s no need for “artifical deadlines.”

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