Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's your damn point

By now you've probably heard that the House Republicans have finished their healthcare repeal stunt. Maybe they'll be able to milk another round of Sunday talk shows out of it or maybe not. But then what? It's a stunt. Nothing practical is going to come of it. The Senate is not going to pass the necessary equivalent legislation for the healthcare bill to be repealed and Obama would veto the repeal even they did. In effect, they've wasted two days of the taxpayers' time and money to hold a party pep rally. The vote is a propaganda exercise and not a very good one at that. They needed to hold this repeal vote to show the base and the tea partiers that they are good for their promises. With the rest of the electorate, this stunt may actually hurt them. They backed themselves into a corner by having made this a major campaign promise.

As campaign rhetoric, Republican talk of death panels and bureaucrats getting between us and our doctors worked well enough; I have no doubt that their fear mongering gained them a few votes among less informed and easily panicked voters. Voters usually give politicians a break on campaign hyperbole. We're less forgiving when the lies continue after the election. As part of the lead up this stunt, Republicans have continued to spew those tired lies and added a new one about the healthcare bill: it will cost 650,000 jobs. Having used the phrase "job killing" in the title of their bill, they needed a number to throw around. They chose a nice big one that is, however, based on nothing.

While this bit of theater allowed the Republicans to claim that they delivered on one promise, that have failed on another. Their promise was to "repeal and replace." They have no replacement legislation lined up. None. They have accepted, at least partially, the idea that the healthcare system in America needs improvement, but they are totally silent on what they would do to improve it. Suppose they had won a veto and filibuster right out of the gate, what would they be doing now? Nothing. This is the sad state of the Republican Party these days. Ever since the Gingrich-DeLay revolution of 1994, the Party has not only moved to the far right, but the leadership has changed from politicians who understood issues and who could make policy to those who can only manage politics. Boehner, McConnell, and the others in leadership positions are adept at keeping the caucus in line and on theme, but they are unable to make legislation. During their 2001-07 majority, they were only able to push through legislation handed to them by others. They carried out orders issued by Bush's people or by lobbyists from privileged industries. All they have right now are orders to tear down the accomplishments of the last congress. Cut taxes. Get rid of regulatory protections. Dismantle and privatise the social safety net. These are all negative actions. They don't have a positive program for anything.

Now their lies, theater, and lack of ideas are going to begin to hurt them. The Senate is not going to pass its own repeal bill and the program is going to stay on the books for the next two years. During that time, people are going to get used to the better provisions of the bill. As seniors get used to having the hated donut hole finally out of their way, the Democrats will keep reminding them that it was the reform bill that got rid of it and that the Republican repeal would have re-opened it. If the Republicans say they also wanted to close the hole then the Democrats will ask, then why did you vote both against closing it and for re-opening it. The same conversation will be had over pre-existing conditions and over parents keeping their young adult children on the family policy. Over the next two years as the death panels, total socialistic takeover, and 650,000 lost jobs* fail to materialize, their hyperbole will be revealed for the ridiculous scare mongering that it is. By the next election cycle, the Republican position will be a definite liability with all but the most conservative and partisan constituencies.

If the Democrats are smart--and, against all precedent, they are showing signs that they might be--they will continue to harp on the destructive nature of the Republican program and on the popular aspects of the bill. The election of 2012 is not something that we can ignore until next year, after the presidential primaries. The internet empowers us all to be opposition researchers and fact checkers. It is our job to remember what the Republicans say and do and hold them accountable. We need to be the ones to press them on this every time they appear in public. When Democratic challengers appear next year, we need to make sure they pursue these points. Even if we live in in nice Democratic districts, we can harass Republicans with letters to the editor in their hometown papers and through all the channels that the Internet provides us. Never forget. Never forgive.

* I almost hate to say this out loud, but there is a small silver lining for the Republicans on that point. Kieth Olbermann and others have already taken to greeting John Boehner with a rousing chorus of "where are the jobs?" every time he shows his face. The economy suck and it's going to continue to suck for a long time. But there has been some small improvement and things are glacially moving in a better direction. After claiming that everything wrong with the economy over the last two years was the direct result of Democrats being in power and that everything would get better if they were returned to power, they now have to deliver. Jon Kyl already made a comical effort to pad their score by taking credit for all of the improvements of the last year. His "logic" is that the tax policies they are going to enact later this year, encouraged businesses last year--or something like that. Boehner might be able to use their failure to repeal the healthcare bill as cover for his inability to generate any significant numbers of jobs. He can claim that he really did create the jobs, but that his achievements were cancelled out by the job killing healthcare law. Watch for it.

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