The indulgence of fantasy

    Before the House Republicans are inevitably compelled by the dictates of reality to govern as grownups, they apparently intend to cavort like toddlers in a sandbox, banging their pails and raising holy heck in a burst of sound and fury.Case in point: Their plan to enact a wholesale repeal of the health care reform law – or, as they put it on the bill’s title page, the “job-killing” health care reform law. This vote, slated for next Wednesday, has to be the phoniest stunt since Britney Spears lip synced during her clunky dance at the MTV Video Music Awards. One millisecond after the House Republican majority signals repeal, the bill is DOA. The Senate will flatten it with a fly swatter, end of story. So what’s the point of doing it?For starters, the temptation to take a victory lap is too strong to resist. During the ’10 campaign, Republicans titillated their conservative base with fantasies of repeal, so naturally the first order of business is to further indulge those fantasies by signaling their intention to fulfill the promise (albeit symbolically; Capitol Hill is ground zero for empty symbolism).The stunt begins with the bill’s title. “Job-killing” is an adjective best suited for a Republican press release; as a rhetorical weapon, relentlessly repeated, it is designed to decimate nuance. There are actually several studies – staffed by folks from places like Harvard, UCLA, USC, and the Commonwealth Fund – which conclude that the health care law will actually create as many as 400,000 jobs a year over the next decade, but the whole purpose of party agitprop (“job-killing”) is to crowd out such complexities.And House Republicans don’t intend to give those studies a hearing anyway, because, the way things have been set up, there won’t be any hearings on the repeal bill. They say that hearings aren’t necessary, because, in their view, everything was extensively debated during the Democrats’ health reform push. Granted, this argument contradicts their previous longstanding claim that the health reform law was “rammed through” without adequate debate – one GOP talking-pointer, Ron Christie, even insisted on TV the other night that the Democrats did not conduct any hearings – but hey, in partisan wars, intellectual consistency is always the first casualty.The other advantage of zipping right to the symbolic vote, without any hearings, is that it minimizes the risk of House Republicans being forced to explain why they want to repeal a historic law that is projected to cut the budget deficit by $140 billion over the next 10 years. Isn’t erasing the red ink supposed to be a top GOP priority? Where else in the budget would the House Republicans expect to find those savings? And since the Republicans have naturally attacked the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office for estimating those savings, would they care to explain why the CBO is somehow wrong this time (as opposed to all those times when Republicans approvingly quote the CBO)? And if they were to repeal health reform, what would they replace it with? What, specifically, would they propose to do – given the fact that, over the span of many years, they’ve done squat?

    (By the way, the CBO released a brand-new estimate today. It now says the health reform repeal would deepen the budget deficit over the decade by $230 billion.)

    The new majority leader, Eric Cantor, insists that a speedy repeal vote is of the essence because “the American people” expect it. Actually, it’s a tad misleading to invoke “the American people” in this fashion; once again, nuance intrudes. In a late December poll, CNN and Opinion Research Corp. reported that only 37 percent of Americans oppose the health law because they think it’s ” too liberal,” while 56 percent favor the law or think that it’s “not liberal enough.” Also in December, when the Washington Post-ABC News pollsters asked people who they trusted to do a better job on health reform, 51 percent chose President Obama and 38 percent chose the Republicans. On a separate question, a slim majority said it opposed “the changes to the health care system,” but, even within this opposition camp, only 29 percent favored repealing the law.If the Democrats have any smarts at all (insert joke here), they’ll assertively state the obvious, which is that the empowered House GOP’s very first gesture is to symbolically repeal a law that benefits the average American. In other words, if the House GOP had its druthers, 32 million currently uninsured Americans would not get coverage in 2014; young uninsured adults would not get coverage under their parents’ policies; children with preexisting health conditions would not be able to get health coverage; small businesses would not get the enacted tax break that induces them to offer coverage to their workers; and seriously ill people would not be protected from insurers who try to drop their coverage. (By the way, the CNN poll reports that 61 percent of Americans want to bar insurers from booting out the sick customers.)

    The repeal vote is sheer simplicity. It’s political theater for the tea-party crowd, a gimmick by which the Republicans hope to bank some good will in the short run, knowing full well that the base will be disappointed down the road. Already, we’re getting word that a key GOP campaign promise – to cut $100 billion from this year’s budget – is as DOA as health reform repeal. The rumored reduction tab is now down to around $30 billion or less. For instance, Republican leaders were thinking about slashing federal road money – whereupon their good friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told them, oh no, you can’t do that.So by all means, guys, take that health repeal vote. Then put away the sandbox. Governing requires hard choices and a respect for nuance. Only grownups can do that.

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