President Obama on Wednesday rolled out a dizzying set of accusations against the Republican party that veered toward contradicting one another, as he encouraged Senate Democrats to keep fighting for his agenda.
The president, during an 80-minute session with Democratic lawmakers, made the following claims: Republicans don’t want to fix health care or the economy; when they do want to fix health care or the economy, their ideas are bad; and Republicans may have a few good ideas but Democrats have included them in legislation.
1. Republicans don’t want to fix health care or the economy: “If the price of certainty is essentially for us to adopt the exact same proposals that were in place for eight years, leading up to the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression – we don’t tinker with health care, let the insurance companies do what they want; we don’t put in place any insurance reforms; we don’t mess with the banks, let them keep on doing what they’re doing now because we don’t want to stir up Wall Street — the result is going to be the same,” Obama said.
Republicans have offered plans to fix the health-care system. As for insurance companies, Rep. Paul Ryan has a plan that he said Tuesday would “break the insurance monopolies.” Republicans have offered fewer alternatives on financial regulation, but say they favor it as long as it is not heavy-handed.
A White House spokesman, when asked about the president’s statement, defended it and pointed to Sen. Jim DeMint’s comment that if the Obama’s health-care bill were defeated it would “break him.”
“Certainly, throughout this process, there have been many, many Republicans who have suggested that the best course is to do nothing,” the White House spokesman said, asking that he not be named. “He wants to work with them and he’s asking for their ideas and they will certainly be talking. But it’s not like it’s some revelation to say that lots of Republicans who simply don’t want to do anything on health care, no matter what’s in the handout they gave the president.”
Many Republicans say they want to fix health care, but disagree with the White House on how to do so and last year decided to work toward derailing the Obama plan. It’s a distinction the president glossed over.
“The president is trying to have his bipartisan cake and attack it too,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “While delivering overtly partisan speeches, President Obama admonishes an atmosphere devoid of bipartisanship.”
“The president has the largest megaphone in the land, and his rhetoric has only exacerbated the partisan political culture by leaps and bounds,” Dayspring said.
2. Even if Republicans have proposed alternatives, their ideas are unserious: “If the Republicans say that they can insure every American for free, which is what was claimed the other day, at no cost, I want to know … Why would I want to get a bunch of lumps on my head doing the hard thing if you’ve got the easy thing?” Obama said.
The talking point seems to have originated from Obama’s exchange with Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, on Friday in Baltimore. Price told the president that he has a health-care proposal that expands health insurance coverage to “all Americans … without raising taxes by a penny.”
Obama shot back: “If you say, ‘We can offer coverage for all Americans, and it won’t cost a penny,’ that’s just not true. You can’t structure a bill where suddenly 30 million people have coverage, and it costs nothing.”
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Price, said Price’s bill pays for itself by annual 1 percent reductions in non-defense discretionary spending: “There is a big difference between not costing anything and not raising taxes. The common sense idea of covering costs with spending cuts is something that clearly escapes this White House.”
3. Republicans have proposed ideas about health-care reform, and Democrats have accepted them. But Republicans haven’t returned the favor: “When it came to health-care reform I sought out and supported Republican ideas from the start. So did you,” Obama told the Democratic senators. “You considered hundreds of Republican amendments, and incorporated many of their ideas into the legislation … When I start hearing that we should accept Republican ideas, let’s be clear: we have. What hasn’t happened is the other side accepting our ideas.”
It is true that 160 Republican amendments were included in a bill drafted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. But all but one of those amendments were technical in nature, according to Republicans. The one substantive amendment – to require members of Congress to enroll in a government-run “public option” — did not make it into the final bill that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve.
Obama said on Friday in Baltimore that the idea to allow Americans to shop across state lines for insurance — a favorite of conservatives — “was incorporated into our package.”
Some Senate Republicans who were heavily involved in health care negotiations, who spoke to The Daily Caller, said this was the case. But some Senate Republicans in the leadership disagreed, saying the provision in the final Senate bill required all plans sold across state lines to conform to government requirements, eliminating the point of the original idea, which is to foster choice and competition.
Obama mentioned a few other items — high-risk pools for uninsured people with preexisting conditions, pools for self-employed and small business, an “affordable catastrophic insurance option for young people” — that he “embraced” and were “part of our package.”
The catastrophic plan, however, was watered down to make it unpalatable, said a policy aide to a Republican senator who was intimately involved in the negotiations.
Many of the most substantial conservatives ideas aimed at making insurers and health-care providers more accountable for their pricing to patients have been rejected or ignored by Democrats.
Obama on Wednesday hinted at the reason why Republicans’ most fundamental proposals have been cast aside over the last year. Though the president said Democrats have “got to be non-ideological about our approach” to health care, he also said that he is “not willing … to give up on the basic notion that this government can be responsive to ordinary people and help give them a hand up.”
The Obama administration sees proposals from lawmakers such as Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican*, as violating this principle.
White House budget director Peter Orszag on Tuesday said that Ryan’s plan, which Obama and others in the administration have mentioned often in the past week, is “a dramatically different approach” from their own.
Under Ryan’s plan, Orszag said, “much more risk is loaded onto individuals.”
*Ryan was originally identified incorrectly as a Democrat.