Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Monty Python Won't Be Fighting the Health-Takeover Battle
Maimon Schwarzschild

For Obama and his party to push ahead as though nothing had happened, and to try to "cram down" the healthcare takeover, would be bad for the country as well as disastrous for the Democratic Party.  But there is something fascinating, like watching a car wreck, in reading the liberal and left-liberal brass section demanding just that.

Here they are.  (Just a few of them.)  The wonderfully-named Hacker and Hopkins in the Washington Post ("After Massachusetts: Why The Democrats Should Still Pass Health Care Reform" - all the talking points).  Josh Marsall at Talking Points Memo (ditto).  Here is La Pelosi herself.  (There's a famous story of a nineteenth century opposition Member of Parliament denouncing a government minister when Gladstone himself arrived in the House of Commons; the member stopped in mid-sentence and said "But why say any more about the monkey?  Here comes the organ grinder..."  But I digress.)

Perhaps my favourite today is from The American Prospect, under the demented headline "Why Massachusetts Doesn't Matter" (a straightforward proposal to delay Scott Brown's admission to the Senate more or less indefinitely - until there's time in "the Vice President's schedule" to swear him in - and of course to vote through the healthcare takeover in a leisurely way in the meantime.) 

It's not going to happen.  The Democrats are going to re-think, and the takeover bills will not go through, at least not now, not in their present form.  Barney Frank puts it plainly:

I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results. If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate health care bills. But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the Senate, that approach is no longer appropriate. I am hopeful that some Republican Senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform because I do not think that the country would be well-served by the health care status quo. But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened. Going forward, I hope there will be a serious effort to change the Senate rule which means that 59 votes are not enough to pass major legislation, but those are the rules by which the health care bill was considered, and it would be wrong to change them in the middle of the process.

Barney Frank is a grown-up, at least on occasion.  (This is a crucial occasion for his party.)   Evan Bayh is saying more or less the same on the Senate side.

There would have been some Schadenfreude in watching the car wreck.  (The ghost of Clint Eastwood asking the Democrats whether they're feeling lucky; and of course, Go ahead make my day.)  But the better angels of our nature are relieved.

Now it's important for Republicans to have a credible alternative.  Alvin Felzenberg, at National Review Online, has specifics:

Democrats in Washington, in their insistence on ramming through some version of health-care "reform" — the voters be damned — bring to mind the knight in the old Monty Python movie who, after losing all four limbs, insists on taking on his assailant with his tongue. As the Democrats rush full steam ahead into a buzz saw, the GOP has choices of its own to make. Will they allow the media and their opposition to cast them as the Party of No, or will they demonstrate that, after losing their way at least since 2006, they are capable of governing? A few suggestions:

1) Do not gloat. Commend the people of Massachusetts on the wise choice they made and on their good judgment. Hail Scott Brown's win as the first step on a long road to building a 50-state Republican party.

2) Call upon the president to start again on health care, and offer your help.

3) Offer to support a scaled-back version of pending legislation while demanding the following provisions as the price of GOP support:

— a provision mandating that insurance not be denied to people with pre-existing conditions.

— language allowing portability of coverage from job to job.

— elimination of lifetime "caps" on coverage for diseases like cancer.

— assurance of nationwide competition by providers to lower costs.

— ceilings on malpractice claims.

For the first time in many years, the GOP may find itself in a "win/win" position. If it takes the "make them say no" approach, the Republican party can force Obama to choose between knee-jerk allegiance to his leftist base and actually doing something that will work to the benefit of the American people. If the president and his team reject the GOP's extended hand, they will come across to voters as exceedingly partisan and divisive. If Democrats move in their direction, the voters will regard the Republicans as both reasonable and right. They will enter the 2010 election perfectly poised to add significantly to their numbers both in Congress and in state houses across the nation.

I'm not sure about "no pre-existing conditions".  The nature of insurance is that you can't buy fire insurance after your house has already burned down, or life insurance after the bus has run you over.  But Felzenberg may be generally on the right track.

UPDATE: On reflection, I'm more reserved about Felzenberg's health care proposals, though I don't reject all of them out of hand.  But the crucial points for Republicans to make, I think, are that economic growth ought to be the first priority; and that in health care as in other areas, the presumptions ought to be in favour of free choice and free markets.

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Maimon Schwarzschild


"... a provision mandating that insurance not be denied to people with pre-existing conditions."

Well... I have a couple of health conditions. But why is it that I cannot get insurance AT ALL rather than coverage exempting "pre-existing" conditions? Why does having, say, diabetes mean I cannot get cancer coverage?

And then there is the case of the woman who, after three years of paying for health insurance, discovered pregnancy is a "pre-existing" condition so [ob-gyn and hospital] treatment is not covered...

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