Since the majority of Republicans running for Congress in 2010 ran against health care reform, which has already passed, and against Barack Obama, who wasn’t actually their opponent in their various races, expectations of what they would be able to do if they won were set rather unachievably high. After all, the election is over, and Obama is still in office. Which means that overturning health care reform is unlikely to impossible, since it would have to go through not just the Senate but somehow avoid his veto pen.
Alas, instead of going the traditional route politicians take when faced with conundrums such as this—which is to simply lose all memory of promises made during the campaign season—the new majority in the House has laid out a plan to somehow beat Obama and health care reform by harassing it to death with a series of kangaroo court-type hearings. As Lindsay Beyerstein reported, House Republicans are planning to keep the bureaucrats that are supposed to be running health care in a revolving door to hearing rooms.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts “covered up” the true projected costs of health care reform.
I’m presuming that the reason that Barton believes there was a cover-up is because it’s become a matter of faith to opponents of health care reform that it’s “socialized medicine” that must therefore cost the taxpayers an unbelievable amount of money. In reality, the Congressional Budget Office says that repealing health care reform would cost the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. One reason the bill was passed, in fact, is because spiraling health care costs were eating up more and more of the federal budget. If you factor in the savings to individual consumers who pay for health care on top of taxes, the whole point of health care reform was to save money, not spend it.
It’s not out of the question to ask if opponents of health care reform are in such a hot hurry to start creating obstacles to implementation precisely because they fear that once health care reform goes into effect, the savings will become apparent to the average voter. When that happens, good luck trying to ever repeal it. But if health care reform is subjected to the promised hundreds of hearings, there is a good possibility that the implementation could be delayed as desired, which might give Republicans enough time to take enough power in D.C. to repeal health care reform before it goes into effect. As this is the most conservative House ever, they probably have the political will in Congress to do it.
The other hope, I suspect, is by continuing to make health care reform a contentious, news-grabbing issue, they can make people even more wary of it. And then repeal starts to look more appealing just to shut them up. As stupid as that sounds on paper, it’s actually quite crafty. It’s a tactic favored strongly by the anti-choice movement. Knowing that most Americans favor reproductive rights, and they can’t win their arguments on the merits, anti-choicers instead just kick up a lot of dirt and make themselves so annoying that the general public is open to making concessions in exchange for some relief. Basically, it’s bullying. As anyone who spent time in middle school can attest, sadly, bullying often works.
And, as anyone who has dealt with bullies can tell you, they are rarely satisfied. Once you concede any ground to them, they start to see you as weak and an easy target. You end up having to appease more and more without any end to it. The only real way to handle this strategy of using House powers to hold harassing hearings is to stand up to it. Which means making a big stink over it, calling it for what it is, and shaming the congressmen who call pointless hearings with no real intention to discover anything new. As long as this goes on, health care supporters should emphasize that congressional hearings are about rooting out corruption, not being corrupt in and of themselves. If done properly, this process should make the people who are calling the hearings look bad, and health care reform won’t pick up some public taint because of it.
It would probably also help to anticipate where attacks are going to come from next. As I noted in this week’s podcast, for instance, there’s almost no way that health care opponents will let birth control be covered as preventive medicine without a fight. Folks like Sarah Palin lie unblinkingly about abortion being covered under this new bill, so there’s absolutely no way they’re not going to hijack the same resentments to make a stink about birth control coverage. If you want to whip up the easily resentful quickly, provoking them by suggesting other people are getting laid and having fun on their dime will do it. Never mind that having sex is a normal part of most people’s lives, making contraception just as much health care as controlling digestive problems for those who eat and enjoy it.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the slower health care reform is to be implemented, and the more watered down it is, the easier it will be for opponents to convince the public that it was a bad idea. Fighting hard is the only way to save health care. Rolling over and seeking compromise is just a way of letting it be killed slowly.