With the exception of the public option, President Obama and GOP lawmakers agree on most major provisions on health care reform: increasing competition in the health insurance market; keeping bureaucrats out of the doctor's office; passing a health care bill that helps, or at least does not hurt, the economy; keeping legislation deficit neutral; preventing increases in taxes for the vast majority of citizens; preserving Medicare benefits for seniors; and preventing taxpayer dollars from funding abortions.
If you get your news from the New York Times, however, you are most likely oblivious to the many areas in which congressional Republicans and President Obama agree. The Times declared in an editorial last week that the President has "waited in vain for a bipartisan compromise to emerge — a virtual impossibility from the start given the determination of top Republicans to kill his effort and cripple his administration." The Times also insisted that the President "has been far too passive — for the sake of an unrequited bipartisanship — as his opponents have twisted and distorted the health care debate."
The Washington Post has also portrayed bipartisanship in the health care debate as a lost cause, and complained about Republican stubbornness. "Few Republicans this side of Maine seem interested in voting for any Democratic version of the legislation," according to Post Columnist Howard Kurtz.
Many GOP amendments have aligned quite well with the President's rhetoric regarding health care reform legislation. But Republicans, especially in the House, have been shunned by committee chairs and Democratic leaders who simply refuse to accept GOP amendments to health care bills, even when those amendments align with the President's stated goals for health care reform. So I ask you, which party is killing bipartisanship?
The President purported his belief in markets during his Wednesday address to the Joint Session of Congress, saying that his "guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. That's how the market works." Indeed. Republicans agree that competition could be a greater cost cutting measure than any proposal yet on the table.
But Arizona Republican Rep. John Shaddeg's bill (H.R. 3217) to allow Americans to purchase health insurance across state lines, and therefore to dramatically step up competitive forces in the insurance market, has idled in the Energy and Commerce Committee since July. Perhaps committee leaders should speed up consideration, given that the President's "guiding principle" includes relying on market forces and increased competition to mitigate problems in the health care sector.
On Wednesday, Obama assured the country that "I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need."
Republicans share the President's aversion to bureaucrats making personal health care decisions. But apparently congressional Democrats do not. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., offered an amendment in the Energy and Commerce Committee that would explicitly prohibit federal officials from making those decisions. Led by Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., committee Democrats killed the amendment.
The President on Wednesday also expressed his distaste for conservatives who claim that, under the President's plan, the government would euthanize granny to save on costs. But an amendment proposed by Rep. Walley Herger, R-Calif., which would forbid the federal government from conducting comparative effectiveness research on health care treatments--the precursor to health care rationing--was killed in the Ways and Means committee at Chairman Rangel's behest.
President Obama's much-touted claim that he will not sign a health care bill that "adds one dime to the deficit" sounds good to the GOP. But, once again, congressional Democrats don't seem to share this distaste for deficits.
Democrats killed an amendment in committee that would ensure the President's no-deficit pledge actually happens. The amendment, offered by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., would have prohibited any health care legislation from going into effect unless it were deficit neutral. The Dems didn't like that.
The GOP also tried to lend a hand to President Obama in helping him to keep his campaign pledge of not raising taxes for individuals making less than $200,000 per year. An amendment offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would exempt all individuals making less than that from all taxes contained in the bill. It was killed in the Ways and Means Committee. A similar amendment, offered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the Education and Labor Committee, was shot down by panel Democrats, with Chairman Miller leading the charge.
Republicans agree with Obama that no health care plan should slash Medicare benefits for seniors. "Don't pay attention to those scary stories about how [seniors' Medicare] benefits will be cut," he said in his address to the Joint Session. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., tried to ensure the President's promise would be kept when she offered an amendment in the Ways and Means Committee that would strip the bill of language that cuts funding for Medicare Advantage. One quarter of seniors get their health care through the program, and according to independent fact-checkers slashing funding would not be able to prevent cuts in coverage, but Chairman Rangel and committee Democrats defeated the amendment.
President Obama has also touted the economic necessity of his health care proposals, indicating that reform would be a boon for the American economy. Republicans have tried to help the President form legislation that would improve its impact on the economy--and strip economically damaging provisions.
The employer mandate, according to some analyses, would, within five years of its enactment result in 1.6 million fewer jobs, a $200 billion contraction in GDP, 1.2 million fewer work hours per week, and an annual decline in wages of $71 billion.
Republican amendments offered in separate committees by Reps. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., and Wally Herger, R-Calif, would suspend the employer mandate if unemployment reaches 10 percent. Both amendments were killed in committee.
To address the objections of lawmakers who rejected that the employer mandate would be economically detrimental, Reps. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., offered amendments in two separate committees that would exempt from the employer mandate any business that claims (and whose claims are certified by the Secretary of the Treasury) that the mandate has imposed financial hardships that have forced those businesses to lay off workers or cut salaries, or prevented them from hiring additional workers. Both of these amendments were defeated by Democrats on the respective panels.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif, took an even more conciliatory approach, offering an amendment that would have created small business-specific plans that would minimize the financial burden on the employer mandate and allow them to band together with other businesses to buy health care coverage at a lower cost. This amendment was also defeated in Ways and Means.
The President also tried on Wednesday to put to rest conservative concerns that tax dollars could be used to fund abortions. "Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions," the President claimed. But congressional Democrats don't seem to share the President's aversion to taxpayer funded abortions.
Three Republican lawmakers, Reps. Sam Johnson, Tex., Eric Cantor, Va., and Mark Souder, Ind., offered separate amendments to remove this language from the legislation. All three amendments were killed in committee.
An amendment offered by Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., attempted to strike language from the legislation that would allow the federal government to withhold funding from states that refuse to use tax dollars to fund abortions. The amendment was defeated in committee on a party-line vote.
Contrary to the Times's and Post's claims, congressional Democrats have been the ones shunning bipartisanship. Republicans have offered numerous tweaks to the various health care bills that would help the President do exactly what he says he wants to do. It's the Dems that reject legislation by virtue of the party offering it.
That the Times, the Post, and numerous other outlets continue to deride Republicans for refusing to work with the President indicates that they, like many Democrats, will continue to portray the GOP as an obstructionist force that won't allow the President to fix our health care system, regardless of the facts.
Democrats have, from the start, opposed Republican amendments while shouting about the GOP's refusal to work with the majority party. For those Democrats, and the media outlets that blindly support them, considering proposals from the other side has nothing to do with compromise, and bipartisanship is simply code for agreeing with what the far left has to offer.