How to Dress the Health Care Debate

Democrats are in a quandary over what to do with their healthcare plans.  They backed themselves into a corner in August, and they’re hoping tonight the old Obama campaign rhetorical flair can get them out of the mess.  More of that “Yes we can” and all.  

But there appears to be a great deal of confidence on the Republican side of the aisle.  Though a few RINO senators are in their usual state of befuddlement, all remaining Republican members appear committed to oppose the Democrat plans to nationalize health care. House Republicans are certain that the people will not buy yet another attempt by the President to convince them that his plans for a government takeover of health care really aren’t the government takeover of healthcare.

The President will be walking a high wire tonight as he puts forth another prime time effort to drag this turkey through Congress. The high-risk, high-potential payoff speech will have to assuage the fears of hundreds of members whose constituents told them in August that if they voted for the huge 1000+ page bill, they’d be voted out of office next year.

Quite the feat when there are only two small groups of people in the country who support government-run health care: the most extreme of the radical liberals, most of whom are at the helm of the federal government, and union members whose health care plans are bankrupting their employers.

The rest of us understand the price that’s paid and would prefer not to sacrifice the best healthcare system in the world to another government bureaucracy.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) isn’t buying this new Democrat effort to slap more lipstick on the pig and put it in a prom dress.  At his first weekly pen and pad session with reporters post-August town hall melees nationwide, Pence said, “The American people don’t want a health care speech. They want a health care plan.”

“The American people get it, that if the Democrats have their way and a public option is introduced, that despite the assurances of the administration and Democrats in Congress that if you like the health insurance you can keep it, well the American people know that you can’t keep the health insurance you have if your employer cancels it,” Pence continued.  “In Washington, D.C., I found myself in recent months in debate with a lot of people saying, ‘It’s just a public option, how will that result in people losing their health insurance or result in a government takeover?’  But when I’m standing in front of a town hall meeting and I say in this difficult economy, an economy that’s reflecting 9.7 percent unemployment, there’s no business worth its salt that the minute the federal government starts offering a public health insurance option and requiring businesses to only pay an eight percent payroll tax to get out of offering health insurance, there isn’t a business worth its salt that isn’t going to say to its employees look we love ya, we love having you work here, but we don’t offer health insurance here anymore.  People back home get that at an intuitive, common sense level the way folks out here just don’t seem to.”  

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Ways & Means, joined Pence at the session where they both talked about health care and jobs.

“Michigan has the highest unemployment in the country,” Camp said.  “We were told that the stimulus needed to be passed quickly so that it could have an effect.  The unemployment at this point would be 7.9 percent nationwide if in fact we passed the stimulus bill.  It’s just the reverse.  It’s 9.7 percent nationwide, 15 percent in the state of Michigan.  Only three counties in the state are not in double digit unemployment.  I have counties at 16 and 18 percent unemployment. … Frankly many people want us to get to the work of getting the economy moving and I think they see that as a very top priority.”

I asked about the “trigger” option currently being floated by Democrats as a compromise to the stalemate over the so-called public option.  Camp talked about Democrat efforts to cloud the issue with claims that any trigger on the “public option” would be no different than the trigger that was included in Medicare Part D and would have kicked in had private sector insurance companies failed to get into the market.

“I’d have to look at that very, very carefully, because I think that just a way of getting the public plan maybe a little slower but you’ll get one,” Camp said.  “It is fundamentally different that the Medicare Prescription Part D issue. There were no private sector companies in Part D when that was passed through. There are well over 1,300 health insurance companies that have been offering insurance for well over 150 years.  There’s not the concern — will they enter the market — which was a concern with Medicare Part D.  So, no, I think a trigger I’d have to look at very, very carefully because I think it could be a Trojan Horse for the public plan.”

Pence wasn’t very happy with the idea of a trigger, either.

“The last trigger I liked and trusted was Roy Rogers’ horse,” Pence quipped.  “There are an awful lot of House Republicans who’ll be very leery of a trigger because a bad idea today is still going to be a bad idea five years from now.”

Democrats have the votes to pass the government takeover on their own but it appears they don’t want to own it outright.  They’re shopping for useful idiots among Republicans for political cover.  Too many Democrats in red states clearly see a yes vote on the highly-unpopular government-run healthcare option as the death knell to their re-election hopes.

Pence explained it’s not just the so-called public option that’s causing the American people so much angst.

“There are other issues other than just the public option,” Pence said.  “The whole question of mandates — mandating the American people to purchase health insurance — is actually something that Barack Obama as a candidate for President opposed, in fact criticized rather roundly as an element of Sen. Clinton’s health care plan at the time.”

“We’re interested in bringing back the kind of reforms that will bring real competition within the private sector and increase choice to the consumer, but not increases to the role of the federal government, the control of the federal government over our health care economy with the introduction of the public option,” Pence added.  “The American people know that a public option will not compete with the private sector in any even-handed way.  The federal government competes with the private sector the way an alligator competes with a duck.  People get that.”  

All eyes will be on the President tonight to see how he’s dressed up the healthcare pig..