The past week’s debate about health care has shown that in Washington the only things more stubborn than facts are politicians who evade them. In spite of a torrent of independent analyses showing that the so-called health-care “reform” bills moving through Congress will dramatically increase the deficit and cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance, the politicians leading the effort have steadfastly refused to consider that their ideas and policies, rather than the character of their critics, may be flawed. At the same time, the politicians writing the bill still refuse to answer basic questions about how it will be paid for and how it will affect patients.
The American people have good reason to be concerned. The fact is that President Obama and the vast majority of members who support the reform bills would set up a single-payer health-care system if they could start from scratch. In the meantime, according to their own explanations, they will settle for creating a public, government-run option in the context of our current employer-based health-insurance system. The American people know this because the president and many other Democrats have made this argument many times publicly.
Yet, what matters more than their past statements or current rhetoric is the likely effect of their legislation. According to independent sources, the health-care bills under consideration will dramatically increase the deficit, take away patient choice, and set the stage for a total government takeover of health care — the single-payer model many Democrats have long dreamed of. As the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, recently said, the bills moving through Congress did not contain “the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount. And on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs.” Meanwhile, the independent Lewin Group estimates that 114 million Americans will be forced to give up their current health-care plans as the government-run plan puts everyone else out of business.
Congressional leaders and partisan operatives have responded to these policy indictments by inventing a bizarre conspiracy theory that involves right-wing extremists, the CBO, moderate Democrats, and insurance companies — all of whom are somehow dreaming up “scare tactics” while plotting to disrupt town-hall meetings. This line of attack is troubling because it goes far beyond traditional partisanship and instead indicts millions of hardworking taxpayers who have honest concerns.
For instance, according to a new DNC ad, individual Americans who oppose a government takeover of health care are not acting out of good faith, sound reasoning, and independent judgment, but rather are part of an “angry mob” that lacks the intelligence to think critically and independently. The condescension underlying this claim is breathtaking, particularly when the entire strategy of public-option proponents depends on misdirection and subterfuge. Public-option advocates want the American people to believe — in spite of their past statements — that they aren’t trying to lay the groundwork for a total government takeover of health care, but instead are trying to create new choices. Fortunately, the American people aren’t buying it, and public-option proponents are now attacking the skeptics.
The backers of the public option are concerned because they know that their greatest obstacle is not the small minority of Republicans in Congress but the millions of Americans who will make members of their own party think twice about enacting a government takeover of health care. The budget-reconciliation fallback option — a way to potentially steamroll reform through Congress this fall — is an important clue to their intent. This option wasn’t established because of the Republican minority, which lacks the votes to mount a sustained defense, but because of the likely dissent of moderate Democrats. Public-option advocates know that many Democrats aren’t eager to sacrifice themselves on the altar of single-payer health care.
Individual Americans should view the month of August as their best, and perhaps final, opportunity to alter the health-care bills before Congress reconvenes in September. Citizens should ask hard questions without having their motives questioned. I expect such questions at my town-hall meetings. After all, the greater threat to freedom and liberty is not an informed citizenry but an irresponsible, elitist, and evasive political class that refuses to answer hard questions and make tough choices.