I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to debate the design, implementation, cost and philosophical principles underlying the Democrats’ Healthcare Reform Act.
A lot of legitimate questions remain about how the program will be paid for long-term, how many people it will actually help, and whether better, less complicated and less intrusive alternatives might be found.
And now for the punch-line: As they seek to score political points on “Obamacare,” Republicans have largely blown their own credibility as the party with the right ideas to answer those questions.
Indeed, GOP leaders have earned for themselves a deep reservoir of skepticism.
The first blunder, of course, is that top Republicans have adamantly refused to offer alternatives, or talk about how they would approach this differently.
Nor have they adequately explained the fact that during the years when Republicans controlled Washington, they ballooned the public costs of healthcare (pushing through a huge, budget-busting prescription drug entitlement for seniors) without addressing the tens of millions of Americans with no insurance coverage.
So when Republicans say their message in 2012 will be “repeal and replace,” journalists like myself and voters like you should be asking for specifics: Replace with what? How will you get it right this time?
The other reason the GOP has drifted into “pants on fire” territory on this issue is that so many of their most adamant claims about the Democratic plan have turned out to be flimsy, exaggerated or downright false.
Just this morning on our airwaves, New York state Republican leader Dean Skelos argued that a new Congressional Budget Office accounting of Obamacare suggests that it will cost twice as much as originally predicted.
This is a widely parroted theme among conservatives and it is, simply and factually, false. Here’s what the non-partisan website FactCheck.org found when they looked at this issue:
Several readers asked us about Republican comments and news reports saying that a new Congressional Budget Office report had found that the federal health care law would cost double the original estimate. But that’s not what CBO’s report said. Instead, the report shows that the gross yearly costs of the new health care law are likely to be 8.6 percent higher than originally estimated.
Politifact — another non-partisan fact-checking team — reached the same conclusion, calling conservative claims bluntly “false.”
Politifact also investigated conservative claims, echoed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, that the Healthcare Reform Act would somehow ration or deny certain Medicare treatments received by elderly Americans.
Their probe concluded that the assertions were “pants on fire” lies, saying that the a new political ad about the issue “isn’t just wrong. It’s also ridiculous.”
So what’s up with that? If Obamacare really is so toxic, why does the GOP have to keep trotting out full-blown whoppers to attack it? If the truth about the program is ugly, hit us with the truth.
And then there’s the complicated issue of whether or not the GOP’s top candidate, Mitt Romney, actually some of the most controversial policy provisions of Obamacare, while serving as the governor of Massachusetts and while campaigning in 2008.
The Washington Post’s Factchecker site concluded that Romney embraced the idea of personal mandates, insisting as recently as 2008 that “mandates work.”
But Romney never embraced a national mandate requiring that all Americans purchase health insurance.
That’s an important distinction, but it still leaves a lot of of unanswered questions. If mandates work but we don’t want them in national policy, what are the alternatives?
How does the GOP leadership plan to confront the complex, thorny problems posed by uninsured Americans, both those who can’t afford coverage and those who carelessly choose not to buy protection, thus ballooning costs for the rest of us?
As Republicans campaign this summer, these are the questions that they should be answering. And to win the high ground on this issue, they should make sure that their answers are based in fact.