National Review Symposium, November 9, 2009
Now that we have lost the battle, how can we win the war?
As the health-care debate moves to the Senate, Obamacare opponents should emphasize that the Senate bill is not remotely moderate. It would cost $1.7 trillion in its real first decade (2014–23), according to the Congressional Budget Office — 95 percent as much as the House bill.
Two points should be hit particularly hard: One, the Senate bill would provide tremendous incentives for people not to buy insurance until they are already sick or injured — which would raise most Americans’ insurance premiums substantially. Two, it would brazenly pay for Obamacare by siphoning hundreds of billions from Medicare. The bill even says it would cut Medicare Advantage benefits, and would cut doctors’ Medicare payments by 25 percent and never raise them back up. If it didn’t follow through, it would become a massive-deficit bill.
Crucially, we should also advance — and persuade Republican senators to champion — a clear alternative. To avoid the criticism that the House GOP bill got for not doing enough to address the number of uninsured, GOP senators should basically take the House Republican bill and add a targeted tax break — finally ending the unfair tax on the uninsured (without touching employer-provided insurance or its tax status). Unlike the $1.7 trillion Democratic bill, the CBO says, the $61 billion House GOP bill would lower Americans’ premiums. The GOP Senate bill would also significantly lower the number of uninsured — and could do so in a deficit-neutral manner.
Americans’ choice would be clear: massive cuts to Medicare benefits and doctors’ payments, or none; $1.7 trillion, or one-tenth of that; government control or private control; mandates or choice; higher premiums or lower premiums. The GOP bill would accomplish more, cost less, and destroy less. It would highlight the core weaknesses of the Democratic bill while bringing Americans into the GOP camp.
— Jeffrey H. Anderson is a senior fellow in health-care studies at the Pacific Research Institute and was the senior speechwriter for Secretary Mike Leavitt at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during Pres. George W. Bush’s second term.
Conservatives must focus on the Pelosi/Obama bill, reminding Americans that this is what happens when Democrats have total power. They talk center and legislate left — raising taxes, building bureaucracy, and limiting freedom. A battle has certainly been lost, but the war may yet be won. Conservatives should highlight the absurd details of the House legislation and communicate the issue in terms that resonate with moderate Americans. The issue is too important to lose.
Conservatives must compare the massive costs of the bill to the modest benefits. Deficit neutral does not mean household-budget neutral. Democratic health reform will cost trillions, much more than the CBO estimate of $1.3 trillion.
We must remind Americans that the bills contain nothing but wishful thinking — discredited and disliked ideas — to control costs. As Thomas Sowell points out, shifting costs to taxpayers is not the same as controlling them. Price controls always lead to rationing. As for government being more efficient than the private sector, a recent 60 Minutes exposé on Medicare shows it efficiently pays $60 billion a year to fraudsters.
Most important, these people cannot be trusted to tell the truth or keep their promises. Candidate Obama campaigned on no middle-class tax increase. He lambasted Hillary Clinton for endorsing an individual mandate and McCain for wanting to tax health insurance. Today, he’s endorsed bills that will punish the middle class, tax health insurance, and mandate that people purchase a government-approved form of it or pay fines.
This all seems so obvious to those of us tracking the issue. Yet we obviously haven’t clearly communicated it to the public.
— Sally C. Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen’s Guide