I received an email from a good friend yesterday, who wondered why Republicans had not done more to stop the wretched health care bill. He enclosed David Frum’s recent column blaming conservatives for the mess. Frum aruges, contrary to the actual history of deliberations: “At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision…we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, No compromise, nothing.”
I have to disagree with Frum on the facts. Republicans were shut out of the negotiations from the beginning. Until the charade of President Barack Obama’s health care summit last month, the administration refused to meet with Republican leaders to discuss their ideas. Excellent Republican alternatives–including bipartisan bills–were on the table early in the debate but were quashed by Democrat leaders in the House and Senate.
Perhaps Republicans could have done more to stop the bill from passing. It was, for example, gratifying to see thousands of ordinary Americans showing up at town hall meetings to question their representatives, and the Tea Party made a huge difference, but the Republican party failed to organize a popular movement around our alternative ideas. We also failed to draw public attention to the many likely victims of ObamaCare.
Now that the bill has been signed by the President and is likely to survive reconciliation challenges in the Senate, Republicans must decide what to do next. Some GOP leaders vowed to repeal the bill, not just because of its substance but because it is the product of a fundamentally corrupt legislative process. Others suggested that the GOP could only hope to replace those provisions of the bill which are most costly and damaging.
In my view, this dispute misses the point somewhat. Republicans did not lose the health care debate. We won the battle over both the substance and process of the bill, and built bipartisan opposition to it. We lost the vote count, but came far closer than the staggering Democrat majorities should have allowed. We also forced the President and his party–including the so-called pro-life Democrats–to reveal who they really are.
Above all, we have to look at the health care bill as an opportunity–not just to win back Congress in November, but to present a coherent alternative agenda to the American people. That agenda is bigger than the health care bill alone. It must include reform of the entire edifice of federal entitlement programs. That is not an ideological goal; it is a financial necessity. We are bankrupting our country, putting our nation’s future at risk.
Health care, welfare, social security, Medicare–all of these programs share the same fundamental flaw: somebody else pays. The taxes that are taken out of our salaries and investments do not go towards any sort of savings plan for the future, whether individual or collective. Instead, they are used to run a growing federal bureaucracy and to pay for the immediate needs of people with shrinking opportunities to escape dependency.
The left trumpets the health care reform bill as a step towards reversing inequality. In fact, it will widen the gap between rich and poor, because as the system of entitlements crumbles, only the wealthy will be able to escape, while a growing majority of Americans will be trapped. Social tensions will also rise, as the zero-sum game of politics comes to dominate our economic life. The need for an alternative agenda has never been greater.
We must shift our entitlement programs away from the redistributive model upon which they are based, and towards a model based on individual choice and savings. We must do it without reneging on present obligations–which Democrats have done by cutting half a trillion dollars from Medicare–and before young Americans are forced into a debt from which we will never benefit and which we will have to pay for the rest of our lives.
For months, voters have wondered whether the GOP would emerge with a new agenda for the 2010 elections, much like the Contract With America in 1994. Our priorities have suddenly become clear and urgent. America’s economy, and even our national security, is threatened by our financial weakness. That is why the GOP must not just repeal the health care bill, but also do so as part of a broader package of entitlement reforms.
There is another reason we need a bold agenda. Democrats are already preparing the next steps in their plan to transform America. They no longer respect public opinion or even the threat of losing the next election. Their leaders have shaken the foundations of our democracy by reducing Congress to an auction block, where votes are sold to the highest bidder. They view corruption as the necessary means to achieve their ends.
Republicans have an opportunity, and a responsibility. We must lead America out of its financial and political crisis. We must offer the restoration of individual freedom and responsibility as the alternative to the transformation of our nation into something weak and unexceptional. We have not lost the debate–we have won it, and we continue to win it. We must win votes as well in 2010, before the damage is too great to undo.