Summit outcome could set stage for GOP coup

Dustin Siggins Contributor
Font Size:

Two weeks ago, Anthem Blue Cross raised its rates in California rather sharply. To my mind, the move gave a fresh boost to Democratic health care reform, certainly not a positive occurrence—even despite Anthem’s market-based, and quite logical, defense. Furthermore, the federal investigation into the rate hikes gave Obama a bit of a public relations boost, as his administration could now point to “evidence” that their reform was necessary. To paraphrase Nina Easton on Monday’s “Special Report,” Obama’s new health care proposal hopes that the American people dislike insurance companies more than they distrust government officials.

As referenced above, Obama officially presented his health care reform proposal Monday. Among other things, it closes the “donut hole” in Medicare part D, keeps the so-called Louisiana Purchase and gets rid of the Cornhusker Kickback. It also creates an insurance company “rate czar” (I stole the term from Laura Ingraham) and costs $950 billion over 10 years. It also initially gave Obama a boost going into Thursday’s health care summit. However, a large detail seems to have been overlooked by the administration—the Congressional Budget Office has refused to score the bill. According to CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf,

“This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it—a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.”

This is wonderful news. On Thursday, Democrats will have the two very unpopular Senate and House health care proposals and an unscored administration proposal. Assuming they do not call the whole thing off—doubtful, but possible—Republicans have two openings with which to take a public relations coup from the summit.

The first, stealing a thought from a commenter on an article in The Hill, is to attack specific proposals in the Democratic proposals. Not with generalities such as “keeping government out of health care” or “don’t put a government bureaucrat between a patient and his doctor.” Instead, Republicans should study every idea put forward by the Democrats until their eyes bleed. To paraphrase the commenter, Republicans should be as specific as possible throughout the entire summit, without fail. Or, to put it another way and paraphrase former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, Democrats win when they obfuscate the issues. Republicans win when they clarify. Several issues to be clarified and specifically attacked include:

1. The White House cost estimate is short by almost one-third. Similar to the Baucus health bill last year, which also omitted major details that are rather important, the bill is “scored” by the White House for the next 10 years, though expenses don’t start until 2013.

2. The cost of the “Doc Fix” is not included. That alone will cost at least $240 billion over 10 years.

3. Taxes and fines are all over the proposal.

4. The Nelson abortion compromise is still in the bill. This compromise failed to get the support of the USCCB, which means it’s not a pro-life compromise and therefore not a pro-life bill.

The second thing Republicans should do is push a simple five-step process between now and Thursday. Without defending Anthem- as per Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney’s suggestion last year—they should explain how the following five steps would defuse future rate hikes:

1. Tort reform. It would lower health care costs, which in turn lowers health insurance rates and helps improve the quality of care in America.

2. Modify the employer exclusion tax. It, too, would lower costs and create a less regressive tax system.

3. Change our Medicare payment reform system in the style of the Dartmouth Atlas Program. It would lower costs, increase the quality of care and put something of a brake on the overutilization of resources America currently has.

4. Get rid of the insurance monopoly exemption. This will kick in market competition for both the numbers of insurance providers and the prices they charge.

5. Allow the purchase of insurance across state lines, for the same reasons as number four above.

By marketing these proposals in the context of incremental reform and blunting future rate hikes, Republicans can put themselves in a very good spot come Thursday. Once the summit arrives, by hitting hard on specifics and repeatedly mentioning the unpopularity of the Congressional proposals and the unscoreability of the Obama proposal, as well as the unequivocal support Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has for the bill despite its lack of a CBO score, Republicans will be able to pull of a televised public relations coup and put the final nail in the coffin of ObamaCare and Democratic health care reform.

Dustin is a political commentator who contributes to www.race42012.com and is the editor-in-chief for www.thelobbyist.net. He is a former intern with The Heritage Foundation, the former Assistant Director of Communications for a health care trade association, and is currently an intern for The Laura Ingraham Show.