Now that the Republican Party has taken control of Congress, or at least taken control of the theoretical future Congress the media currently covers, it’s time to decide what to do about theoretical future health care reform. You remember health care reform, right? The enormous legislative project that captivated the nation for the vast majority of 2009, on which the first black President staked his political credibility in order to address the abuses of the world’s 39th-best system? The one that tore us all apart? Yeah, the GOP is going to undo that. They promise to in their Pledge to America, and ever since Republicans Capture Congress edged out Republicans Field a Bunch of Congressional Candidates Everyone Thinks Are Crazy as the nation’s dominant news narrative, they’ve been talking about how to do it. Meanwhile, senior Senate Budget Committee member Judd Gregg (R–NH) has been quietly suggesting that’s not such a hot idea. His arguments—and the strategy they represent—paint an infuriating portrait of a party that might have prevented the last two years of American governance out of spite.
First, the plan: according to the Pledge to America and local weatherman John Boehner, repealing Obamacare is Republicans’ “number-one priority.” It’s also not tremendously popular. In a recent Kaiser Health Tracking poll, only 31% of registered voters favor repeal, although that number goes up when it comes to repealing particular provisions.
Undoing health care reform presents a logistical challenge, too, since Barack Obama will hold veto power over any such legislation until 2012 or when he is impeached for having lived in a foreign country as a child, whichever comes first. Predicted gains notwithstanding, no one is likely to gain a veto-proof majority in the Senate anytime soon. The most likely GOP plan, then, will be to “defund elements of the bill and its implementation”—that is, refuse to make budget appropriations for the programs, bureaus and funds that turn legislation into law. Gregg has also suggested using the budget reconciliation process to repeal major elements of the package.
If the word “reconciliation” rings a bell, it might be because Senate Republicans decried it as un-American parliamentary gamesmanship when Democrats used it to pass health care in the first place. Reconciliation is just one of the many aspects of the battle over health care that Republicans opposed when they didn’t control Congress but will be happy to consider if they get the Senate in January. As Gregg told The Hill, some elements of the bill passed last year “actually made some sense.”
Thus does the Republican Party rejoin the governing process, provided it gets to be in charge. “Our view is, you repeal and replace this bill,” Gregg told CNN. “You replace it with better law and better approaches towards healthcare.” In other words, you acknowledge problems with both the law as written and the existing health care system, and you compromise.
Here is the approach that was missing last summer, and whose absence has done serious damage to American political discourse. Rather than provide constructive modifications to Democratic proposals or even acknowledge that the health care system had a problem, the Republicans of 2009 talked socialism, death panels and government takeovers. It was a scorched-earth policy that sought to end debate rather than advance it. Rather than doing something about health care, the GOP opted to do something about doing something about health care.
From a political standpoint, it worked. The signature legislative achievement of the Obama administration is considered a black eye by much of the electorate, and it seems plausible that the Republicans will ride their broader strategy of bitter hatred toward government all the way to, um, government. One has to ask, though: Why couldn’t you guys have adopted the “replace” part of “repeal and replace” before repeal became necessary?
The range of answers to that one are partisan and unpleasant. We here at Combat! blog are relentlessly unpleasant, but we really are trying to be a little less partisan. News like this makes it difficult, though. The Republican Party seems poised to completely reverse its positions on compromise and reconciliation, and the only thing that’s changed (maybe) is the number of seats it holds in Congress. That seems, for lack of a better word, unprincipled. You can’t have a two-party system in which one party refuses to recognize the other’s legitimacy. All you have then is a permanent state of revolution, in which government gleefully undoes itself every two years. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to get back to running this country, and we’re gonna need everyone we can get.