By Bill Boyarsky
The selfish negativity expressed by Republicans in the House health care debate last week showed why we should fight hard for President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012.
Although their speeches were so canned, repetitive and boring that it was almost impossible to listen to them, the message was clear: Beat Obama, dismantle the health bill and take government out of the business of helping people. “Put a president in the White House who will repeal this bill,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the tea party’s chief harridan, “a Senate that will repeal this bill. We will continue this fight until Obamacare is no longer the law of the land.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Republican leader on fiscal matters, expressed the goal in even starker terms, going far beyond health care and heaping scorn on the very idea of the safety net that has been part of American life since the Great Depression:
“Over time, Americans have been lured into viewing government—more than themselves, their families, their communities, their faith—as their main source of support; they have been drawn toward depending on the public sector for growing shares of their material and personal well-being. The trend drains individual initiative and personal responsibility. It creates an aversion to risk, sapping the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for growth, innovation, and prosperity.”
These words are from Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future,” which he issued a year ago to the great approval of Republicans and even tips of the hat from those Democrats who are more concerned about the deficit than the unemployed.
With Republicans in control of the House, Ryan now has great power. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he has been given authority to in effect write the budget that will be voted on by all the members. Because of new Republican House operating policies, he can do this himself by setting limits for domestic spending categories—“more power than has ever been invested in a budget committee chief,” noted The New York Times.
His “roadmap” gives a clear view of what the Republicans see as their path to win the Senate, keep control of the House and unseat Obama in 2012.
One of the GOP’s major proposals is eliminating Medicare as we know it, except for those now being covered. Current Medicare recipients would get a small tax credit to purchase policies in any state, opening the door to unregulated marketing of health insurance that may not cover necessities such as maternity care and cancer screenings. Government would also provide a small cash grant and let you invest in a medical savings account. Social Security would be gutted, with recipients being encouraged to turn over a third of their government pensions to the stock market. Ryan’s Budget Committee may also try to eliminate funds to implement the health care law.
Another House Republican plan, this one from the tea party-influenced Republican Study Committee, would cut federal funds given to states for Medicaid medical care for the poor.
That program is one of the best features of the health care act that the House voted to repeal last week. By 2014, the working poor, now excluded, will be eligible if the plan is not repealed.
The health care plan—Obamacare, as the Republicans call it—was never much liked by a substantial number of liberal Democrats. Obama’s refusal to embrace the best plan—Medicare for all—infuriated them. So did his decision against including a government health insurance plan among the options to be offered to Americans beginning in 2014.
As a result, support from an important part of the Democratic base was absent in the crucial days before passage of the law. Abandoned by the left, assaulted by the right and afflicted with an odd case of inarticulateness, the president and his administration failed to explain what they had given to the country.
Now, too late for the 2010 election, supporters of the law are beginning to defend it. In the House debate last week, one Democrat told stories of how constituents have already benefited.
Young adults under 26 are remaining on parental policies. Policies can’t be canceled unless the insurer proves fraud. There are no longer lifetime limits on benefits (such limits permitted cancellation after a certain limit had been reached). New policies must offer free preventative services. Patients can choose their primary care, OB/GYN or pediatric physicians from their insurance network without referral from another doctor. There is a new right to appeal insurance company decisions. Medicare recipients have received a $250 rebate from the prescription drug plan. Small businesses are receiving tax credits for offering health insurance to employees. People with pre-existing conditions can buy insurance. You can use the nearest emergency room without suffering insurance company penalties.
By 2014, the landscape will change much more. Consumers will shop for the best policies at state exchanges, with competition hopefully driving the price down.
Of course, key parts of this plan are threatened by the lawsuits brought by Republican state attorneys general, who may succeed in the current Supreme Court. But even so, much of the law will remain, and be revised and strengthened over the years, just as happened with Social Security and Medicare.
The Republicans want to repeal the entire package and wipe out the other government programs created to help people in economic distress. All they have to offer is a ringing call for a return to Victorian days, as proposed in Rep. Ryan’s roadmap. And they insist on doing it as the country is barely recovering from a recession caused by Republican policies. That’s reason enough for us to start working now to make sure Obama wins another term.
AP / Charles Dharapak