In the Arena

The “Job-Killing” Health Care Bill

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In the heat and light of Tucson last week, Pete Wehner–the once and current and future Bush the Younger hatcheteer–expressed some regrets for the tone of his rants against various people (including me). But a scorpion does as a scorpion does–and yesterday he was back in full rant mode, continuing his deathless crusade against that terrible enemy of the Republic, E.J.Dionne.

This is hilarious, and sad. The sad part is that E.J. used to consider Pete a friend, as did I, until Pete went all Rove on us. (Literally, Pete apparently suffered some sort of Rovebotomy working for Karl in the White House.) The hilarious part is that E.J. is one of the most courtly, decent, non-acidic commentators out there–he’s so averse to unpleasantries that he refuses to respond to Wehner’s constant taunts.

But enough of that. The subject of Wehner’s fury this time was Dionne’s proposal that the House Republicans delay their attempt to repeal the Obama Health Care Reform bill, out of respect for the tone of civility the President attempted to establish in Tucson last week. Actually, I disagree with E.J. on this…

The repeal vote is a silly bit of politics, a promise made to Tea Party constituents. It will pass in the House, then fail in the Senate–sort of like the ridiculous Clinton impeachment attempt, only less expensive. The sooner we get past this reflexive partisan choreography, and on to the nation’s real legislative agenda, the better. But the fact that the bill itself is called the repeal of the “Job Killing Health Care Bill” is evidence enough of the partisan squalor that has attended Republican discussion of this issue.

Wehner’s most hallucinogenic claim is that most of the toxic disinformation during the health care debate came from Democrats:

Set aside the fact that most of the disinformation came not from the right but from the left (the assertion that ObamaCare would bend the cost curve downward; that premiums would not go up; that people would not be forced off their existing coverage; etc.).

Set aside, too, the fact that the “acidic tone” of the original health-care debate was led in large measure by those on the left, like then-Representative Alan Grayson, who said that the GOP’s health-care plan was for people to “die quickly.”

What’s worth noting in his column is that Dionne (and those who share his mindset) is using the Tucson massacre to advance their liberal agenda in yet new ways.

Wait a second. Not sure I want to set aside those things, certainly not to deal with Wehner’s patently ridiculous claim that Dionne is “using” Tucson to advance his liberal agenda. (If he’s using it in any way, it’s to advance the cause of civility for another week or two.)

But the idea that the Democrats made the health care reform debate toxic is simply preposterous. Let’s be plain here: there was a conscious Republican strategy to distort the health care debate toward the hyperbolic and obnoxious. The word “socialism” reared its ugly head from the start–even used by (allegedly) more responsible sorts as Wehner himself. The phrase “federal takeover of health care” was also used, to say nothing of “job-killing.” All of these were wildly inaccurate to describe an essentially Republican plan, previously enacted by that son-of-Stalin, Mitt Romney, in Massachusetts.

Somehow Wehner also, somehow, neglects to mention the phrase “death panel,” a brilliant distortion of the debate designed to scare the bejeezus out of the elderly. He does focus on Alan Grayson’s ugly remark about Republicans wanting people to die more quickly, as if that boorish former Congressman had anything remotely resembling the sway of Sarah Palin.

And then Wehner poses as “disinformation” things that haven’t happened yet because the health care bill won’t be enacted for another two years. Yes, premiums have gone up–only because health insurers, acting hand-in-glove with their Republican campaign cash recipients, want people to believe that the higher rates are Obama’s fault–and because they fear that rates won’t be able to rise when health care reform is implemented. Certainly, we don’t know anything about bending the cost curve yet, even if the Congressional Budget Office–yes, the same CBO that constantly refuted Clinton’s health care cost estimates–has posited savings of $250 billion in the first ten years, rising exponentially thereafter. We also have no idea about whether people will have more health care choices, or less, or will be forced into anything other than the moral requisite of universal participation–if the choices are limited, it will be via the free market, at least as the bill is written (with the tiny exception of the Medicare Advantage program, which should have been reformed and retained).

What we know so far is this: Massachusetts has been a rousing success, if more expensive than expected (mostly because Massachusetts doesn’t have the cost control capabilities that the federal government does). That states like Arizona have begun a rigorous program of health-care rationing, which solely affects the poor–this on top of the historic health-care rationing that has afflicted the working poor forever (the non-working poor have been covered by Medicaid). That the Republican idea, foolishly agreed to by the Democrats, of high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions has been an utter failure. That people–including Mrs. Klein and me–are thrilled that our children up to the age of 26 are now can be included on our (private) insurance policy. And that a significant majority of Americans–56% according to the last CNN/Gallup poll–favors either the Obama health care plan or one that involves greater government involvement.

There can be differences of opinion about this. Regular readers will remember that I favored the bipartison Wyden-Bennett bill that would have removed the responsibility of providing health insurance from private employers–indeed, I still believe that a mandatory universal system of progressive tax credits and free market health care exchanges (that is, health insurance supermarkets) will be the freest, most efficient and prosperity-expanding way to go. But these differences can be hashed out civilly, without recourse to words like “socialism” or phrases like “job-killing.” Certainly, a flat-out repeal of Obamacare would blast a huge hole in the budget deficit.

Then again, one thing we do know about many Republicans, especially of the George W. Bush iteration, is that they don’t think deficits matter, as Dick Cheney once said.