Michael Kinsley expresses a bit of conventional wisdom in his op-ed on the health-care summit: “[T]he Republicans didn’t want to justify their label as ‘the party of no.’ They slung nightmare anecdotes about terrible things the current system had done to their constituents just as enthusiastically as the Democrats. You would never know that Republicans had killed health care reform 15 years ago and then done nothing about it during their own years in power.” Even some conservative figures have said that the Democrats deserve credit for at least addressing health care.
I agree that the Republicans should have done more (and often said so at the time, for whatever that’s worth). In hindsight it is easy to see that President Bush should have spent the first half of 2005 on a big push for an incremental, free-market health-care reform rather than on trying to fix Social Security. But it’s also worth noting that Republicans did some significant things on health care and tried to do more.
A Republican Congress passed the Kennedy-Kassebaum portability legislation in 1996 and created the federal-state program for children’s health insurance in 1997. A Republican-controlled government established Health Savings Accounts and a prescription-drug benefit for seniors in 2003. You can certainly maintain that not all of these policies were wise–as I do–but they’re not part of a pattern of inaction on health care.
It’s also worth noting that Democratic opposition doomed fairly modest Republican health-care initiatives. Medical malpractice reform and association health plans (an attempt to let small businesses band together to buy insurance across state lines) fell victim to Democratic filibusters. (The system was broken!) It’s hard to believe that more sweeping initiatives would have gone anywhere. That’s not to deny Republicans should have tried; but it’s context worth remembering.