Bad Faith in Health Care Reform

As a liberal, watching the legislative process wreak havoc on the health care bill has made me incredibly despondent. I’d like to think that I’m intellectually honest enough that if I were a conservative, it would still at least bother me. What so demoralizes me is the absolutely abysmal quality of the policy discussion. While I think some of this might have resulted from a failure of good messaging and public advocacy on Obama’s part, the absolute lion’s share of the blame deserves to be placed on the bad faith of nearly every politician and spokesperson for the Republican party.

There was a huge opportunity for Republicans to play a constructive role in the healthcare debate by making foreceful and principled arguments. If the long-term deficit was truly important to them, they could have made the bill infinitely better by arguing for tighter cost-controls to achieve this goal. If having free market competition was the principle they wanted to enact, they could have fought to tax healthcare benefits. If malpractice lawyers were clogging up the system, they could have enacted fundamental tort reform.

Clearly, they did none of these things; instead we saw mutually inconsistent arguments made to confuse the public and win the news cycle each day. One day the issue was “death panels:” the government will reduce costs too much. Then, the long-term deficit: health care reform will cost too much money. One day, reform is going to take away seniors’ Medicare; the next,  government-run healthcare will be totally inefficient. Never mind the lack of any intellectual consistency with previous Republican policy positions (why was the deficit not an issue when it ballooned under Bush? why Bush’s prescription drug benefit but not Obama’s health care reform?); the arguments given against healthcare weren’t even consistent with each other.

These arguments were in bad faith intellectually, because they could not possibly have reflected the actual considered views of the people making them, and they were in bad faith legislatively because they denied the possibility of effective policy. Rather than participate in the legislative discussion with the Democrats, they tried to play spoiler in the hopes of wrecking any chance for an effective policy to emerge. It (tentatively) looks like they will have failed in that goal — the bill looks likely to pass — but the quality of the resulting legislation, on one of the most important issues imaginable to both parties, is significantly the worse for it.

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3 thoughts on “Bad Faith in Health Care Reform

  1. Although I imagine we would agree on the substance of policy, I am not sure I agree with your take on the GOP entirely. Although there is a huge PR element to this whole exercise, and a combination of obfuscation and obstruction has been the focus of the Republican response, I do think that a lot of behind the scenes efforts have been made to be constructive. I cannot say this for sure, since so much of what seems like substance is really style, but Tom Coburn was in CSPAN’s Washington Journal Friday talking about his proposal. Here’s the Patient’s Choice Act:

    http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=HealthCareReform.Home&ContentRecord_id=5e3b30a4-802a-23ad-4b44-14f0219114c6%20

    So, I only post that to say that there are thoughtful Republicans who have offered their views of what ought to be done. People like Rep. Paul Ryan in particular have been stars on this; so too has Senator Robert Bennett, who co-sponsored a major alternative with Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden.

    (By the way, if you have the time, I’d urge you to watch some or all of Tom Coburn on CSPAN, because it really was a clear explanation not just of why he has obstructed, but also why he thinks he is right to do so, and why he thinks we could have gone in a better direction. http://cspan.org/Watch/Media/2009/12/18/WJE/A/27450/Sen+Tom+Coburn+ROK.aspx)

    Also, John McCain made a good point on the Senate floor recently about how the attempts to make this effort bipartisan were really a sham. The debate he had w/ Sen. Durbin on this point is really worthwhile, mainly because you really never, ever, see a Republican-Democrat debate on the floor:

    McCain’s right: the GOP amendments that were accepted were not of any real substantive value.

    I kind of feel as though we are getting to the point where the Congress is just passing something for the sake of passing something. I wonder if we could have had a better outcome, at less cost, if we just let Senate moderates come together on this. Then again, that might not have gotten the votes either. But, you probably would have had a range of compromises in a bill, from malpractice reform to preexisting conditions.

  2. Really, Josh? I don’t agree with the Republicans, but I hardly think they’ve been acting in bad faith (or differently from any other minority party, really…)

    “If the long-term deficit was truly important to them, they could have made the bill infinitely better by arguing for tighter cost-controls to achieve this goal. If having free market competition was the principle they wanted to enact, they could have fought to tax healthcare benefits. If malpractice lawyers were clogging up the system, they could have enacted fundamental tort reform.”

    How could they enacted any of these things? They’re in the minority… I’m sure they would love to enact tort reform (some Republicans have even introduced bills for tort reform) but I’m sure the Democrats would never let something like that see the light of day. Also, it’s hardly an embrace of free market principles to -simply- tax health care benefits in a system that is already wrought with government inefficiencies and regulations. Such a thing wouldn’t unleash the market’s power so much as just reconfigure the market.

    Nor do I think the Republicans have been any more inconsistent than you would expect from politicians. Because the deficit ballooned under Bush the Republicans can’t be concerned about it anymore? Yeah, the death panels stuff was pretty bad, I’ll admit that. But I don’t think scare-mongering about seniors’ Medicare is new or unique to either party.

    I don’t think the blame for the health care debate lies with the Republicans. I think it lies with the Democrats, who have failed to provide a visionary message for the American people or couch their arguments in consistent terms themselves. They’ve been trying to have their cake and eat it too, “cover everyone” and “bend the curve,” without accepting any possible harms or trade-offs their plan might cost, and THAT has been just as intellectually dishonest as the Republicans have been. The only difference is that you can afford to be intellectually dishonest when you’re the opposition – your job is to oppose. But when you’re an intellectually dishonest government, you can’t expect to lead people to your point of view.

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