Thursday, January 20, 2011

Repeal is Easy, Reality is Hard

Ezra on the Republican House and its vote to repeal health-care reform.
As expected, House Republicans have voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Three Democrats voted with them, which is substantially less than the 13 currently serving Democrats who voted against the bill in the first place, and many less than prominent Republicans had been predicting. On health-care reform, the two parties are moving further apart rather than closer together.
What's not as expected, however, is that the GOP gave up on "repeal and replace" so early. Throughout the election, that was their message. If you look at their press language, it's still their message. Being on the side of the status quo is, according to the pollsters, a bad place to be. But that's where they are. They voted for repeal despite offering nothing in the way of replacement, save for the vague intention to have some committees come up with some ideas at some future date. Barry Goldwater might have wanted the GOP to offer a choice, not an echo, but Speaker Boehner saw more upside in a shout than a choice.

There's a reason for that: Opposition is easy, governing is hard. You have to get your members to agree on a single piece of legislation. You have to make the tough tradeoffs that are the hallmark of governance. You have to explain how you'll do things, rather than merely what you want done. You have to own the popular parts and defend the unpopular parts.

Democrats did that for health care. They fought ugly fights in their own party over the public option, the financing of the legislation, the levels of coverage in the bill, the way abortion would be treated in the exchanges. They made some easy decisions, like banning discrimination based on preexisting conditions, and some hard ones, like adding an individual mandate to the bill, and paying for it through Medicare cuts rather than a tax on the wealthy. And in the end, they managed to pass their law through the House and through the Senate. They governed. They sought to move the country forward.

Boehner's GOP, in deciding against offering the promised replacement for the Affordable Care Act, ducked the hard work and highest responsibilities of governance. Maybe, in the coming months, they'll do better than that. Maybe their committees will report out serious alternatives and they'll be brought to the floor of the House. But this isn't the first time health-care policy has come up in Washington. If the GOP had wanted to offer a plan of their own, there are plenty they could've taken off the shelf. If they'd needed more time, well, there was no hurry. But they didn't take more time, or dust off an existing piece of legislation. Backwards was good enough.

Today's vote was a statement, not a policy. Like the public option and cap-and-trade, both of which also passed the House, it will die in the Senate. But unlike the public option and cap-and-trade, it doesn't tell Americans much about how the Republicans would address the nation's toughest problems After the vote total was announced, you could hear some members of the GOP clapping and cheering. And fair enough: They have a win to be happy about. But not one to be proud of.