GOP flubs health care debate

The well of the United States House of Representatives has provided the forum over the decades for some truly inspiring speeches – some delivered by members of that body, such as former Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde; others by non-legislators invited by the House to speak to its members (Winston Churchill and Douglas MacArthur come readily to mind).  On a day-to-day basis, however, what passes for debate on the floor of the House is more proletarian than uplifting.  Eloquence is more often than not discarded in favor of partisanship, and substance frequently trumped by soundbites.

Even measured against this modern standard for what passes for “debate” in the Congress, however, the final presentations last Sunday evening in the lengthy health care legislation were depressing.  The remarks, delivered first by Minority Leader John Boehner and then by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, completely lacked substance and, in the case of Mr. Boehner, were tinged with anger and profanity.  The Democratic message, delivered by Ms. Pelosi, was typically sophomoric and poorly delivered.  Her remarks claiming that the pending legislation would — presumably by placing control of medicine in America in the hands of the IRS and other government bureaucrats — unleash the American spirit of free enterprise, was silly in the extreme.  Yet, because the point of Pelosi’s speech was to elicit applause rather than enlighten, it drew predictably wild applause from the Speaker’s side of the aisle.

In the long run, however, Pelosi’s comments will matter little; for her party won a significant legislative victory, and it is the results of that vote that will define the future debate, not her remarks.

On the Republican side, however, the manner in which the GOP defined the terms of its position, and the tone and substance of its remarks, will resonate beyond the March 21st vote, and probably not to the benefit of the party. 

It wasn’t as if the Republican Party was not presented with a number of opportunities over the past several months during which this legislation was being crafted, through which to offer substantive, coherent alternatives while at the same time opposing the Democrats’ proposal.  Throughout the months of this unfolding controversy, public polls established repeatedly that a majority of Americans opposed a government take over of the system whereby medical services are delivered and paid for.  And opposing the Democratic Party’s plan on this basis was an important and appropriate strategy for the GOP.

However, in essentially limiting the Republican Party’s opposition to just that — opposition — without clearly and consistently offering a constructive legislative alternative, the minority party has dramatically limited its future likelihood of success in undoing the damage to be visited on America’s economy and medical services by this new health care law.   Now that the president has signed the legislation into law, its terms become the status quo, and it is axiomatic that the most powerful force in the universe is the force of the status quo.

The Republicans will need more than the angry, profane rhetoric of John Boehner as delivered to his House colleagues Sunday evening, as a base from which to launch any electoral or legislative effort to overturn this just-enacted health care law.  In fact, the image of the Republican leader angrily using profanity in his party’s concluding remarks Sunday, rather than setting forth a strong, positive alternative agenda on which to base subsequent efforts, will likely resonate to his party’s disadvantage in the months ahead.

The national Republican Party could have used the opportunity of having a national audience last Sunday evening, to present a clear, substantive alternative to the Democratic Party’s proposal that is now law of the land.  Instead, it simply used the forum to play to its base with a shallow display of anger.

What small glimmer of light there may be at the end of this lengthening dark tunnel of government control, rests largely in the hands of those state attorneys general and public interest law firms that have already filed, or will soon file legal, constitutional challenges to the most problematic provisions in the health care law.  The lawsuits will face a formidable challenge in convincing the federal courts that the mandates in this new law have gone beyond the pale in taking power from the people and placing it in the hands of the federal government; this, considering that in only a handful of instances in the past 75 years has the Supreme Court found any government mandate to be violative of the Constitution.  Still, even though the lawyers who will be prosecuting these legal challenges face daunting obstacles, they are certain to present their arguments with a great deal more substance and professionalism than exhibited by the Republican House leadership.

121 comments Add your comment


March 24th, 2010
3:21 pm

Are you aware that the Obama administration is going to continue working towards increasing the federal governments role in our lives. They have stated that the Federal Government “knows what’s best” for all Americans. Health Care is first, then will come a crackdown on individual rights. You will be required to buy a certain brand of car, use mandated energy items, and so on. Believe me, it’s coming. Is this socialism?


March 24th, 2010
3:44 pm

somewhereinga – State law is different from Federal law. I don’t know the legal basis under which this was done in Massachusetts, but I do know that the Constitution has alot to say about what the Federal government can or can’t do.


March 24th, 2010
4:12 pm

Ed: since you’re psychic, what are the lotto numbers for this week? Be required to buy a certain brand of car? Do you people actually read your posts before you post them?


March 24th, 2010
4:31 pm

Ed, I need a hot stock pick? Please let me know one as soon as you can. You may share it with others on the blog, I won’t mind.

Chris Broe

March 24th, 2010
4:38 pm

These constitutional challenges are interesting because they depict the Right’s willingness to dance for the insurance lobby. That lobby OWNS the Right and dancing is what fascists do best. Dancing with the Czars!!!


March 24th, 2010
4:41 pm

Ed is right. Buried in the healthcare bill are funds for me to create the thought police. I knew you all would be criticle of Ed for being correct, even before you submitted your blog.


March 24th, 2010
5:14 pm

The alternative that could be offered would be to remove barriers to new entrants and competition among insurance companies and healthcare providers. There are also certain provisions in the tax code that contribute to the perverse system we have now. Over the long term that would drive down costs and allow the markets to come up with new ways of providing care that satisfy the needs of society.
The prerequisite in a free society is that the answers arise from the people, instead of being imposed by politicians through force. Regardless of political affiliation, it’s the nature of a free society – companies are created to satisfy demands, some fail, some succeed, and that is the trial and error process through which societies evolve. Imposing an industry structure, no matter how well intentioned and thought out, stifles the trial-and-error process.
Cheers -

Christina Speros

March 24th, 2010
5:41 pm

Republicans should stand and say ” this is the law of the land”. They passed nothing. They are
gangsters, thugs and should be treated as such.
Throw this obama character out and send his cronies with him. Every last one.. Feet first or on
their thick heads.
When he is removed from office, I will host an annual party celebrating this great day.
I will have to rent a large hall to accomodate the vast number of attendees, and this is just in my little neighborhood. Why,this could be a national holiday. Hallmark would get on the band wagon.
Send cards to your loved ones. “obama is a gona”. Write songs commemorating the ocassion.
This could create jobs. Competition would flourish. It could be as big as Christmas.
The re-birth of our nation.
World War ll pulled our parents out of the great depression. Dumping obama will pull us out
of this one. SEND OBAMA PACKING.


March 24th, 2010
6:09 pm

Allen: Your thesis is completely unsupported by the facts. The reddest states, that is the states that are most reliably Republican, are almost always the poorest and least educated with the worst health care. See the demographics.


March 24th, 2010
6:11 pm

I disagree with you on most points, Bob, but I think you did an excellent job of showing conservatives how they should conduct themselves in debate. If someone accuses you of trying to kill their grandma, it’s hard to negotiate with that person. So was life in the Senate thanks to people like Chuck Grassley.

This bill is obviously not as liberal as a pure liberal Democratic majority would want. I still would like to see Medicare opened up to all as a public option. But I like this bill overall. No more pre-existing condtion problems, no more caps, and more availability. I don’t like the mandate to buy insurance on its own, but considering all that is being done to insurance company income, they have to get something to bring in more. It’s either this or scrap the system for single payer. This is about as good of a compromise bill as I think we could get, especially with polarization and the fact that most GOP members didn’t negotiate in good faith.


March 24th, 2010
7:03 pm

The Individual Mandate?
By chrishamm
The mandate in reality gets the good house keeping seal of approval

A key centerpoint of the Healthcare legislation is the Individual mandate. In essence requiring all citizens of a legal age, that are not covered by an employer plan, or from their parents to purchase Health Insurance.

A lot of rhetoric attacking this idea is in play.

Where did this idea come from? It’s not too hard to research. The Heritage foundation, a Conservative think tank, did some analysis of Heatlhcare cost, and reform back in the late 1980’s. They compared three options:

1) A Canadian like system (single payer/public option)

2) Employer mandates (requiring all employers to provide coverage)

3) An individual mandate (requiring all citizens, not covered by a employer plan to purchase insurance via the private sector).

The Heritage Foundation argued for door number 3. The funding would be covered by some tax incentives, mostly tax credits, and actual Healthcare bills would be considered “‘pre-tax expenses”. The Heritage foundation also was recommending the phasing out of tax benefits for businesses to provide insurance to employees.

This was advertised as “national responsible health insurance”.

In 1994, when Health reform was a key policy proposal of the Clinton administration, the Republicans again brought forward the idea of an individual mandate as a better alternative.

The leading GOP alternative plan known as the 1994 Consumer Choice Health Security Act included the requirement to purchase insurance. This proposal was leveraged off of the 1990 Heritage Foundation proposal that I just referenced. “The government would require, by law every head of household to acquire at least a basic health plan for his or her family.”

As recently as last summer, members of the GOP were still in favor of the idea. Senator Grassley said the following in August:

“through an individual mandate and that’s individual responsibility and even Republicans believe in individual responsibility.”

In June, Grassley said the following:

“There isn’t anything wrong with it [an individual mandate], except some people look at it as an infringement upon individual freedom.”

Grassley was one of the lead negotiators in the Senate, working and crafting the initial ideas for this legislation.

An individual mandate, was a cornerstone of Conservative thought for basically 20 years in regards to Healthcare reform.

Very recently Senator Grassley said the following: “The high cost of this bill comes from a non-Constitutional mandate.”

Now why would the GOP be pushing an non-Constitutional idea for roughly 20 years?

The answer is pretty simple “for Political reasons”.

So, it begs the question; “if an Individual mandate, was an idea originally developed by a Conservative Think tank, and embraced by Republicans in 1994, and embraced by Republicans as late as last summer, then why is it a bad idea now”?.

Seems like a reasonable question.

The answer is that it is not a bad idea.

Yes, there is incredible inconsistency and back peddling, but the real point is this:

“An individual mandate has merit. The GOP supported the idea for 20 years, and the Democrats support it now. It is a key cornerstone for future reform. It’s not un-Constitutional”.

Politics will always be Politics. The rhetoric being used against the Individual mandate is Politically driven, not reason driven


March 24th, 2010
10:21 pm

According to Ohio law (Ohio Revised Code,§2917.01, 1996) Boehner’s statements regarding Steve Driehaus (he’s “a dead man”) could and has incited violence. Support Arrest John

Dennis Jordan

March 24th, 2010
11:56 pm

Very well written. I’ll pay more attention to your thoughts. I’m Canadian though; 99% of what was said about our country in this debate was propaganda paid by billionaire insurance entities. We don’t have a perfect system, but certainly more people are carelessly killed by elevator failures in a city like San Francisco or Manhattan than die from a lack of healthcare in Canada. And that is the only lens through which I view America’s shift from a minority of one Western national that lacked universal healthcare coverage toward something resembling it. In fact, in my view, the legislation may have worked best if it began with a “babies and wrinklies” type approach — defend Medicare for the elderly and expand it to include all legal American residents under 18; none of whom could possibly be asked to die due to their inability to afford (premiums to hedge against the cost of) six and seven figure treatments for major illnesses. No kid should die in a wealthy country because his/her parents lack $500k in their chequing account to cover treatment. That it happens by the thousands or tens of thousands in the U.S. is sad. That it won’t now is good.

I’m no fan of people who enjoy welfare and ride it. We all need to work; most especially those who inherit wealth. And we have experimented with curtailing welfare here for those who abuse it. Innovation and productivity are essential for any well functioning economy. And be clear, Canadians admire the American spirit of enterprise. You landed a guy on the moon, for God’s sake. And you’re also exceptionally committed to English-style liberalism — at least to what it was when that word meant individual freedom and was not bent to mean weakness. But let me just say that I cannot imagine a society lasting long where people who work hard and earn $60k or $70k a year find themselves bankrupted or simply forced to passively terminate a loved one due to a lack of easy access to six-figure funds. I want to live in a society where minimum wage clerks get treated for cancer, and millionaire hockey players have to wait next to them in line at the hospital. Our system is not government run; it is run by enterprising doctors with privately owned, for-profit clinics, plus hospitals owned by whomever — often municipalities. What makes the system universal is simply our health cards, which constitutionally guarantee us access to any and all necessary (not frivolous) care at all times from birth to death at no charge beyond parking; it cannot be legally denied to anyone with a card, and everyone legally resident here has the option to obtain one. That in my view is a society that is set up to succeed, both ethically and economically.


March 25th, 2010
2:08 am

Excellent write up by Barr.

His point even goes beyond just politics. Do you like it when you’re doing something, anything, and you have someone standing by you yelling “no no no, you’re doing it wrong !!!”, but then you ask them “ok, so how should I do it?” and they can’t answer ?

Nope, no one does. The Republican’s anger riddled “NO” to everything is not going to help the Party. Oh sure, the hard-right supporters love it, but realize something…you are not the majority.

To win elections you gotta be willing to embrace as much of your side of the spectrum as possible. Mostly, you gotta snatch alot of the moderate-center. The Republican’s behavior lately is an absolute embarassment. McCain publicly stating “you’ll get no cooperation from us for the rest of the year”. Smart move there *sarcasm*

There will be no GOP comeback in the midterm elections and they have only themselves to blame.


March 25th, 2010
8:33 am

I think Mr Jordan’s post from last night above may have sparked an idea…or perhaps it’s been obvious to him and others but I just realized it. What if the Administration, or the entire array of proponents of health-care reform were to position the ‘card’ that every citizen would be entitled/required to have, like in Canada, in order to have access to the ‘universal’ health-care system were to be positioned as a National ID card (or perhaps the other way around). And, at the same time, be part of an immigration reform initiative that would require all to participate in the costs? Just a thought.

No More Progressives!

March 25th, 2010
8:40 am


March 24th, 2010
2:47 pm
I am hungry for alternatives. The legislation the Dems passed has been vilified but there has not been sufficient debate over alternatives.

Too late for that now. In 3 or 4 years, there will be no more private insurance carriers, and your choice will be: Big Government. Take it, or take it.

Amy in the ATL

March 25th, 2010
12:32 pm

As a moderate, I feel that we needed to do something to address the abuses of power of the insurance industry and their monopolistic control over healthcare. Regardless of what some say, healthcare hasn’t really been a free market. For proof, just try finding a primary care physician if you don’t have insurance…even if you’re fully willing to pay up front in cash.

What is a shame is that the Republicans picked trying to bring Obama down over trying to make the healthcare system work a little better. By stating that they wouldn’t vote for any healthcare reform no matter what, they essentially wrote themselves out of the discussion.

This is unfortunately, because the legislation would likely have been improved by the participation of moderate Republicans, who probably would have tempered some of the excesses. But without the chance of getting any GOP support, why should the Democrats even bother to address GOP concerns, regardless of how valid?

The GOP needs to grow up and stop acting like 5 year olds. Compromise isn’t a sign of the lack of a spine….it’s the sign of a thoughtful adult. And right now, we could use some more thoughtful conservatives in Washington.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

March 25th, 2010
3:58 pm

Speaking of flubbed health care debate:

Staffers who wrote the health-care bill exempted themselves from the requirement to join the state-run insurance exchanges.


Congressional leaders apparently not only made quid pro quos with congressmen who voted for ObamaCare, but also with congressional staff who crafted the legislation.

A key loophole is how the bill defines “congressional staff” as “employees employed by the official office of a member of Congress, whether in the district office or in Washington.” That phrase has been interpreted by the Congressional Research Service to exclude various professional staff and those working for leadership offices — the very staffers who wrote the bill.

In the name of solidarity with the voting public, legislators required themselves and their office staffs to join the bill’s newly created state insurance exchanges. But the loophole exempts high-level leadership and committee staffers. For example, staffers who work in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Nevada Senate office would be required to join. Those who work under him as Senate Majority Leader would not. In their own cases at least, key staffers obviously were prepared to make sure President Obama kept his promise that those happy with their current coverage can keep it.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who has led the charge in publicizing what he calls a double standard, says: “The message to grassroots America is that it’s good enough for you, but not for us.”

Democrats call the loophole unintentional, but both Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and Mr. Grassley say they tried to close it last year but were stymied by Mr. Reid. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz told “Obviously staffers are anxious about it. The whole bill is full of loopholes, it’s such a mess.”

And what does it say about ObamaCare that the warriors on the frontline in writing and passing it wanted no part of it?

frank burns

March 26th, 2010
6:01 am

This bill is not the end of the world, or the US, in fact, many Republicans were endorsing most of its measures until they decided to form an en bloc opposition to what they called “Obamacare.” It is not government takeover, it is just insurance regulation. And we needed that. Most people have no idea how exposed they were to getting ousted by their insurance companies in the case of catastrophic illness (which is precisely why we buy insurance in the first place). Also, in 5 years no one was going to be able to afford their premiums. Obama analysed the situation correctly and averted a crisis before it happened. Only people who haven’t studied the situation don’t yet see that it was for their own good. When they do, let’s hope the Obamacare label sticks He deserves it.


March 27th, 2010
12:49 pm

Bob, you’re such a loser and always will be. The Republicans had ideas, but since they’re in the minority they were not in a position to advance them. They were locked out of the health care debate literally by Pelosi and Reid. The Republican mantra should be “Repeal and Reform.” Fade away Bob, you’re as irrelevant as Jimmy Carter, and at least he builds houses!

Wil Wasi

March 28th, 2010
1:56 am

GOP just go find youself. Dems have advanced to the next level while you wasting your time reeling from the 2008 and Health Care Bill debate. Grow up and offer some serious alternative policies for the future of America. Stop preaching bigotry, fear, hatred, discrimination, racism and falseness. Unless you find yourself soon, America will lose heart in you. Show us some competent leadership with your so-called smartness and untold riches.