As most were focused on Obama’s 29th speech on health care reform last night, Louisiana Representative Charles Boustany delivered a sharp-edged response, expressing disappointment with the president and laying the groundwork for a renewed and relevant opposition to Obama’s health care plan.
“Most Americans wanted to hear the president tell Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid and the rest of Congress that it’s time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality,” Boustany said.
In a short speech designed to establish credibility for Republican alternatives to health care reform, the former surgeon addressed the holes in the Democratic plan, employing fiery language in defense of a fiscally responsible, “common-sense” alternative.
“These are common-sense reforms we can achieve right away,” Boustany said, “without destroying jobs, exploding the deficit, rationing care, or taking away the freedom American families cherish.”
Boustany spoke of his 20 years of experience as a surgeon, and the need he saw firsthand for “lower[ing] the cost of health care for all Americans” with “reforms that our nation can afford.”
“I operated on too many people who could have avoided surgery if they’d simply made healthier choices earlier in life,” he said, advocating for incentives for preventative care.
“Republicans are ready — and we’ve been ready — to work with the President for common-sense reforms that our nation can afford,” Boutany said, countering claims, evoked by Obama during his speech, that the opposition supported the maintenance of the status quo.
Weakening coverage for seniors on Medicare, a soft spot in current proposed legislation, was a prime target for Boustany. “It cuts Medicare by $500 billion,” he said of Obama’s conciliatory plan, “while doing virtually nothing to make the program better for our seniors.”
Boustany supported his claims not with ideological oratory, but with the findings of the Congressional Budget Office, calling it “the neutral scorekeeper that determines the cost of major bills.”
Remarking on the president’s inclusion of the much-discussed “public option” in his plan, Boustany expressed disappointment that the president chose not to compromise on the issue, an item that lead negotiator Max Baucus, D-Mont., has said will not pass the Senate. “We can do better,” Boustany said.
“All individuals should have access to coverage, regardless of preexisting conditions,” Boustany said, echoing the president’s comments with one important exception: the mandate requiring everyone to obtain some form of health insurance.
Perhaps more telling than the items addressed by the congressman, however, are the issues that were left unmentioned. Nowhere in the brief speech did Boustany mention abortion funding, health care for illegal immigrants, or death panels, all previously closely associated with Republican opposition to health care reform.
Boustany was a co-sponsor of the bipartisan provision to add funding for voluntary end-of-life counseling to the bill that gained notoriety last month. Strong Republican objection to this provision, characterizing the plan as establishing “death panels” ready to “pull the plug on grandma,” led Boustany and proponents to back off the measure.
Boustany’s selection has much to say about Republican tactics going forward. Selecting a representative not only with experience in the field of health care but with a history of bipartisan action subtly separates Republicans in congress from conservative commentators that decried the coming of socialized medicine and death panels.
Boustany was attacked earlier Wednesday for previous comments indicating that he was sympathetic to the “birther” movement, which questioned Obama’s status as a natural born citizen. He also came under fire for the large amount of contributions he has received from health and insurance interests, a figure accounting for more than 20 percent of his total fundraising according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Despite the attacks, Boustany, a little-known public figure and unexpected choice for an honor usually reserved for high-profile opposition members, is unlikely to receive as much disapproval as the last person to give a Republican response to Obama. The criticism of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s widely mocked response to Obama’s state of the union was so pervasive that some argue it may have severely harmed Jindal’s status as a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
Boustany’s well crafted remarks won’t make many headlines in the wake of Obama’s return to his fiery pre-summer persona, but they’re likely to quietly mark a turning point in the debate. Republicans, still fresh from the wounds of so-called “compassionate conservatism,” are demonstrating increased sensitivity to their role as the only party in Washington advocating free market solutions and responsible spending.
“Let’s also talk about letting families and businesses buy insurance across state lines,” he said, referring to a Republican proposal that was ignored by the president. “I and many other Republicans believe that that will provide real choice and competition to lower the cost of health insurance. Unfortunately, the President disagrees.”
If rebuilding the party begins with rebuilding the credibility to wage an intelligent opposition then Boustany has set the minority on the right path. Capitalizing on the populist uproar witnessed over the summer while cultivating this sense of a firm, credible, and intelligent alternative in the minds of voters is sure to be a chief task set before congressional Republicans this fall.