President Obama would no doubt be delighted if Republicans were to accept the basic outlines of the Democratic health-care proposal: new regulations on insurers, a mandate that everyone buy insurance, and subsidies to help them do so. All the evidence of the last year suggests that this type of bipartisanship — a Republican surrender — is the only kind in which he is interested. Since Obama knows full well that no such deal is possible, the real purpose of his health-care summit is political. He must think that the Democratic proposal will look better in comparison to Republican ideas. He wants to make Democratic efforts to push through their bills seem like a reasonable response to the unreasonableness of Republicans.
Republicans, for their part, understand perfectly well that Obama is not going to be bargaining in good faith. But they think that the public will give him the benefit of the doubt, so they will attend the summit. There they should do what they can to frustrate the president’s design.
They should keep the focus on the defects of the Democrats’ proposals. Thus they should resist two temptations. The first is to dwell overlong on the advantages of their own free-market plans. When the president criticizes Republicans’ ideas, they should defend those ideas but move quickly back to the subject at hand. Building support for Republican reforms is a long-term project that requires the defeat of Obamacare in this legislative session.
The second temptation is to complain about how Democrats have shut Republicans out of the legislative process. We doubt that most people much care about this issue. Republicans should talk about procedural issues only to highlight the Democratic legislation’s substantive defects: for example, its indefensible backroom deals. President Obama has refused to take responsibility for those deals, but congressional Democratic leaders cannot get off the hook. Republicans should ask them how it can be justified to exempt Floridians from Medicare Advantage cuts, or to exempt union health-care plans from new taxes.
They should note that the legislation increases entitlement spending at a time when such spending already threatens to bankrupt our government; that it makes it more expensive to employ workers at a time when the long-term health of the labor market is already widely questioned; and that it will cause many Americans to lose their current health-care arrangements whether or not they want to.
The president is glib. Congressional Republicans are not always as well-versed on health-care issues as they should be. Still, Republicans should not be too nervous going into the summit. Can they win this health-care debate? They already have been winning the larger one.