Thursday, May 08, 2014

Republicans just don't want reform

By Frank Moraes

Jonathan Chait wrote an excellent article yesterday, "Springtime for Obamacare." In it, he goes through a number of arguments that conservatives have made about Obamacare and discusses how recent events have refuted them. I recommend reading the whole article, especially because I'm only going to talk about one small aspect of it.

He used a quote by Tennessee Republican State Senator Stacey Campfield to make a general point. Campfield recently argued that Obamacare is like the Holocaust, because it was the government deciding who lives and who dies. It's actually a hoot if you brush aside the fact that it was said by a man with a lot of political power. I mean, you need extremely twisted logic to come to that conclusion. You have to assume, for example, that providing more healthcare will actually kill people because it will make the care so much worse. But I suspect that Campfield also thinks that huge numbers of the "right" kind of people don't have health insurance because they've been priced out of the market by the government's paying for the "wrong" kind of people.

Chait's point is that wackos like Campfield are actually in an easier position because they make no factual claims to be refuted. After all, they aren't saying that Obamacare will lead to death. They are simply claiming that the very idea of Obamacare is deciding who lives and dies. No proof needed. But here's the thing: those who present actual claims and those who do not are against Obamacare for the same reason. They just don't want the old system changed.

This fact is clear enough in one of the standard arguments against Obamacare: "Health insurance doesn't make you healthy." This was a big deal last year when a small study out of Oregon didn't find health improvements in a couple of categories for people who had health insurance. Of course, since then, a much larger study out of Massachusetts has found that increased health insurance coverage actually saves lives. So that argument ought to be gone, but of course it will continue on because facts don't seem to matter in these cases.

What's interesting about this argument is the subtext. It argues that health insurance is not useful. And if its not useful, it isn't worth helping people get it. That's what I've always said about the conservative position on healthcare reform: they don't want to do anything. Obamacare is based upon a private market system developed by the Heritage Foundation. But it was never meant to be law; it was mean simply as protection against something like a single-payer system. This is actually a concept that Chait himself pioneered, The Heritage Uncertainty Principle (HUP): as soon as a Republican healthcare idea becomes politically viable, it disappears. He noted this early example of it:

In 1993, Republican minority leader Bob Dole supported a version of it to demonstrate that Republicans did not endorse the status quo, until Democrats, facing the demise of their own plan, tried to bring up Dole's plan, at which point Dole renounced his own plan.

The principle that lies beneath the HUP is that the Republicans absolutely are for the healthcare status quo. Yes, they are for certain changes to the healthcare system, but they are for them for other reasons. The best example of this is tort "reform," which is just a way of giving more power to powerful at the expense of the powerless.

But in this way, regardless of the argument -- "Premiums will go sky high!" or "Welcome to the Holocaust!" -- the conservatives are disingenuous. What they want is to do nothing at all that will upset the power elites. But they can't say that. So they come up with ridiculous rationalizations. But at least the Nazi comparisons have the advantage of being transparently bogus. 

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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