Paging Dr. Michael Steele, stat

The GOP chairman launches a new political attack on President Obama's healthcare plan

Published July 20, 2009 4:21PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON -- Michael Steele knows what President Obama is up to, and he doesn't like it one bit.

"The Barack Obama experiment with America is a risk our country can't afford," the Republican National Committee chairman told reporters at the National Press Club this morning. "It's too much, too fast, too soon."

Specifically, Steele was talking about Obama's goal of passing sweeping healthcare reform this year; the speech was designed to get out ahead of a revamped White House effort to sell the policy this week, including a Wednesday night primetime press conference. But Steele seems to think there are worse things afoot, as this exchange from the question-and-answer session afterwards made clear:

MODERATOR: Does President Obama's health care plan represent socialism?

STEELE: Yes. Next question.

Of course, besides its socialistic ways, discerning exactly what Steele doesn't like about the White House health proposal wasn't that easy. Steele says he wants to cover the 42 million Americans who don't have insurance; so does the White House. Steele wants "the focus on health outcomes, keeping people healthy through preventive care and promoting good fitness and nutrition" -- that goal is at the heart of Obama's policy. Steele says he wants doctors and hospitals to list the prices and health outcomes of their procedures on the Web; it's not clear how they'd do that, without some of the "Washington bureaucrats" the GOP has turned into healthcare bogeymen doing some studies to determine whether care is or isn't effective. Same with the "new paperless health IT systems" Steele seeks -- some of which the economic stimulus that Republicans are now openly mocking funded.

Actually, once he gave his prepared remarks, Steele himself made clear what the nature of the event was. "Look, I don't do policy," he said, immediately after he finished discussing policy for about 30 minutes. "I'm not a legislator. My point in coming here today was to begin to set a tone and a theme, if you will." That theme seems to be more of the same -- "no." The GOP won't bother introducing its own sweeping health legislation, Steele says, because House and Senate Democrats wouldn't give it a vote (that point, at least, is probably quite true).

Republicans have been "set aside and castigated as the party of no," Steele said. "We've been put in that position -- well, I'm here to tell you, yes, we're the party of saying no to expansive government, no to an increase in taxes and spending."

Steele also had some of his recent political history confused. "We all remember Harry and Louise," he said. "Harry and Louise helped save us from Hillary Clinton's health care experiments in 1994. This year, Harry and Louise have been replaced by another couple: Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi." Actually, Harry and Louise -- the stars of a series of TV commercials 15 years ago paid for by health insurance companies, who helped torpedo the Clinton administration's reform proposals -- are back in a new ad campaign supporting reform, this time paid for by the unusual duo of the progressive group Families USA and PhRMA, which lobbies for the pharmaceutical industry. But why let the facts get in the way of bashing Democrats?

Speaking of TV ads, just as Steele finished speaking, the RNC put out another press release announcing another phase in their battle against doing healthcare reform the way the White House wants it. The GOP has bought commercials in North Dakota, Arkansas and Nevada, targeting Reid, of Nevada, as well as Democratic senators who are wavering on whether to support Obama: Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, in North Dakota, and Blanche Lincoln, in Arkansas. Strangely, that means Conrad, Dorgan and Lincoln are all being targeted by TV campaigns by each of the major national political parties -- the Democratic National Committee started running its own ads trying to pressure the Democratic lawmakers last week.

You can take a look at the RNC's slick new spot below -- they're using images of children throughout it, trying to focus attention on the federal deficit (and if, while watching, you start worrying that your kids won't have good healthcare under Obama's plan, so much the better).

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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