Whatever hopes the Democrats in Congress and the White House may still cherish about bipartisan cooperation on healthcare reform, the Republicans are sparing no effort to mock them. Rather than expend much energy on seeking compromise or creating solutions of their own, the minority party appears wholly preoccupied with spreading propaganda against reform through all their reliable stooges, outlets and devices.
If the Republican leadership in either the Senate or the House of Representatives had conceived an alternative plan for reform -- confronting the twin crises of coverage and cost -- they could promote such ideas on all the media platforms available to them, from Fox News and Drudge to the mainstream media.
Instead, however, the Republican noise machine offers only noise, in the hope of frustrating the Democrats and blocking change. Although they understand very well that the public is demanding reform, if only because pollster and strategist Frank Luntz told them so, they don't seem to care.
The latest example of conservative clowning on this deeply serious subject debuted over the past few days via the usual channels: a "chart," released by the House Republican leadership, that purports to show the daunting bureaucratic maze of agencies, mandates and taxes that will result should a Democratic health bill become law.
Supposedly depicting how a new system would be organized, this drawing shows more than 50 multicolored boxes, circles and cartoon pictures, connected by red and blue arrow vectors. According to Rep. Kevin Brady, the Texas Republican who distributed it, the chart displays the "new levels of bureaucracy, agencies, organization and programs [that] will all be put directly between the patient and their healthcare."
That is simply a lie, as Brady surely knows, since none of the Obama administration's proposals or the Democratic bills would interpose any federal agency between patients and doctors -- or between consumers and insurers -- for those who are satisfied with their current plans. Examined closely, most of the items on the chart, including several Cabinet departments and federal agencies, as well as "the States" and "Consumers" and "Private Insurers," already exist, of course. It is hard to say what the GOP drawing can actually be said to show except that American healthcare is already complicated. Much more complicated than systems in other countries, such as France, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Japan, that rely on public as well as private insurance plans to achieve universal coverage.
Omitted from the Republican schematic of healthcare hell are the truly nightmarish complications of the current system, most of which can be attributed to the machinations of insurance companies (an appalling labyrinth, well known to anyone who has been seriously ill, thoughtfully sketched by the New Republic's Jonathan Cohn here). On Brady's chart, there is merely a happy little box marked "Traditional Health Insurance Plans," as if they involved none of the corporate bureaucratic snares that deprive consumers of needed care.
For anyone with a working memory, moreover, it is remarkable to listen to the Republicans complain about the "baffling" complexity of a plan to provide new healthcare benefits (or the cost). When the Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, they passed Medicare Part D, the impossibly confusing prescription drug benefit plan that they rammed through, despite immense flaws, in order to win older voters suffering from exorbitant drug prices. The insane complications of Part D, which required many hours and expert assistance to decipher, were necessary for one reason alone -- to protect the private insurers, pharmaceutical interests and lobbyists who stood to profit from that wasteful scheme.
Individual Republicans in both the House and the Senate may well share the concerns of Democrats about the rising costs and diminishing accessibility of health insurance, but as a matter of policy, their party is bluntly opposed to any real reform. Last month, Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, put out a four-page press release, dubbed the Republican healthcare plan, that was so vague and devoid of required detail that his members could hardly endorse it without laughing. The next Republican non-plan will be unveiled on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, where RNC chairman Michael Steele promises to announce a "unifying set of core Republican principles for healthcare reform." Still no actual bill, but maybe Steele will recite the core principles in rapping rhyme.
Listening to Republicans and their pet pundits on Fox News, CNBC and talk radio, it quickly becomes clear that the conservative objective is not to fashion a solution acceptable to both parties, but to obstruct. The question they ponder daily is not how to reduce costs and provide healthcare to all; no, the question they repeatedly ask is whether and how they can "stop whatever comes out, healthcare-bill wise, from the Democrats."
So much for bipartisanship, a vanishingly rare commodity that is of no value to the Republicans, who know that voters will credit the Democratic majority for reform whether the minority offers support or not. What the Democrats need to understand is that there can be no cooperation without sincere partners. Among the opposition on Capitol Hill there are no such partners. There is only a cabal of legislative saboteurs, egged on by the right-wing media. The Republicans are pursuing the plan laid out by their strategist Luntz that is designed to kill reform -- and it is now time for the Democrats to recognize that grim reality.