CATO reveals the GOP's dirty little secret on health care

Jed L brought something remarkable to my attention over the weekend.

Michael Cannon of the conservative CATO Institute wrote a piece called Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival. The idea is that if Obama gets universal health care passed, he will bring “reluctant voters” into the Democratic coalition. The Republicans must at all costs provent that from happening.

David Sirota and TomP both pointed out that conservative pundit William Kristol made the same case to Congressional Republicans during Bill Clinton’s first term. At first, some were afraid to be seen as obstructing the president’s health care reform efforts. But in December 1993,

Leading conservative operative William Kristol privately circulates a strategy document to Republicans in Congress. Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to “kill” — not amend — the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party. Nearly a full year before Republicans will unite behind the “Contract With America,” Kristol has provided the rationale and the steel for them to achieve their aims of winning control of Congress and becoming America’s majority party. Killing health care will serve both ends. The timing of the memo dovetails with a growing private consensus among Republicans that all-out opposition to the Clinton plan is in their best political interest. Until the memo surfaces, most opponents prefer behind-the-scenes warfare largely shielded from public view. The boldness of Kristol’s strategy signals a new turn in the battle. Not only is it politically acceptable to criticize the Clinton plan on policy grounds, it is also politically advantageous. By the end of 1993, blocking reform poses little risk as the public becomes increasingly fearful of what it has heard about the Clinton plan.

Getting back to Cannon’s recent piece for CATO, I am struck by how conservatives don’t even believe their own propaganda about the horrors of “socialized medicine.” Yes, I know that Obama isn’t proposing socialized medicine (which would work like the Veterans Administration, where the government employs the doctors and runs the hospitals), or even single-payer health care (as in Medicare, where patients choose the doctor but the government pays the bill). But for the moment, let’s accept CATO’s frame on this issue, which is that Obama’s health plan would turn into socialized medicine.

Obama’s plan would presumably allow Americans to buy into a state-run health insurance plan as an alternative to private health insurance, and would prohibit insurers from excluding people with pre-existing conditions. These measures would force the insurance companies to compete for customers by offering better coverage, as opposed to the current system, in which they try to maximize profits by denying care whenever possible, and sometimes refusing to insure people for any price.

I have a friend with a thyroid condition. At one point her husband was between jobs and they looked into buying their own health insurance. They could not find any company that would take their family. It wasn’t a matter of excluding coverage for anything related to my friend’s thyroid condition. They simply declined to sell insurance to this family at any cost. Fortunately, my friend’s husband got a job with good benefits. Otherwise, they would be uninsured to this day.

The benefit of giving families like my friend’s the option of buying into state-run insurance program is obvious. But let’s assume that conservatives are right, and that any state-run insurance scheme is bound to be expensive and inefficient. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it fail in the marketplace?

Obama’s health care plan could evolve in the direction of single-payer health care only if the government insurance plan provided superior coverage to consumers at a lower cost. CATO shouldn’t be worried about this, right?

Let’s go a step further. Conservative pundits are trying to tell us that Democratic health care proposals would be disastrous for the country and wreck the economy. If that’s true, then why is a CATO analyst worried that enacting Obama’s health care plan would cause a political realignment in the Democrats’ favor?

Cannon’s argument is also shocking on a moral level. He appears to believe that Obama’s health care plan would improve so many Americans’ lives that the GOP’s survival would be threatened. So, he urges Republicans to put their own political interests ahead of the interests of Americans currently lacking adequate health care.

Jed L thinks

Cannon has everything backwards: the GOP’s survival depends on Republicans being part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

I have to admit that here I agree more with Cannon. Republicans would not get much credit for helping to pass Obama’s universal health care plan. Everyone would know it was a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress who delivered on that promise.

Obstruction with the goal of making Obama look like an ineffective leader in tough economic times is probably the Republicans’ best hope of making political gains.

I am cautiously optimistic that Congress will be more open to adopting Obama’s agenda than the Democratic-controlled Congress was for Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1994. We’ve got at least two things going for us: Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary will be Tom Daschle, who knows the inner workings of Congress, and Henry Waxman (not John Dingell) will be running the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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