Teaming Up with the Democrats?

Leave it to third-string, has-been quarterbacks of the Republican Party to throw an interception at the precise moment conservatives are about to turn the game around. What is wrong with people like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Senator Alan Simpson, and Senator Orrin Hatch? I am sorely tempted to use one of those phrases made famous by Rahm Emanuel.

One would get the impression that Republicans simply sit back and say "no" to all the noble but slightly flawed ideas proposed by Democrats. One would think that Republicans never have ideas, but that coming to a table with Democrats might inspire them.

Newt Gingrich wants to team up with Democrats on health care. Let's see. President Nixon offered comprehensive national health care proposals in 1971 and 1974. Ted Kennedy's response to the 1971 proposal? "It's really a partnership between the [Nixon] administration and the insurance companies." It died in the Democrat-led Congress.

As for the 1974 proposal, UAW President Leonard Woodcock said at the time,

The American people have shown repeatedly through polls that they insist health care has to be a matter of right. The only way that can be done is through a universal system. And compromises that throw away universality are just unacceptable. We prefer to see nothing come out of this congress than that kind of compromise.

Get it, Newt? "Universality" or nothing. No compromise. Since 1971.

For a brief spell in the late 1990s, Republicans controlled Congress. And sure enough, they proposed and even passed real Medicare reform. As reported in The Wall Street Journal,

The solution is to change Medicare into a defined-contribution health care model much like the insurance system that covers nine million federal employees and family members. Instead of directly paying for all medical charges, Medicare should pay seniors to help them buy modern medical insurance, including drug coverage, on the private market.  This was the idea behind the Republican reform that passed Congress before Bill Clinton vetoed it in 1995.

President Clinton also came up with the idea of a bipartisan commission to fix Medicare called the Breaux Commission. That commission came up with a recommendation similar to the Republican proposal. Clinton killed that, too.

So far, that is four serious Republican or bipartisan proposals over three decades to address rising health care costs and Medicare problems. All four were killed by Democrats.

But there's more. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced The Patients' Choice Act in the House of Representatives once in 2007 and twice in 2008. Jim DeMint (R-SC) proposed The Health Freedom Act in the Senate. All killed by the majority Democrats.

President Bush tried to throttle back Medicare spending and he was excoriated for it. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) said,

This administration ought to know that five years' worth of Medicare and Medicaid cuts totaling $200 billion are dead on arrival with me and with most of the Congress ...

That would be the same Max Baucus who proposed over $400 billion in Medicare cuts in 2009.

If you don't think a single-payer, government-run plan is the real goal of Democrats, look at this video or others like it on YouTube. The reality is pretty simple: There is a big enough group of Democrats in Congress to stop any health care reform that does not move us closer to single-payer. There is no compromise with that. As Ezra Klein said in that video, "At some point, you have to win."

Obama thought he'd won. He thought the time was ripe. He was hoping to ram a public option through by August 2009. It was buried in thousands of pages that no one would read. No debate with Republicans. Here is exactly what Obama said in September 2009.

Every debate at some point comes to an end. At some point, it's time to decide. At some point, it's time to act. Ohio, it's time to act and get this thing done.

But suddenly, after Democrat losses in special elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, it's time for Republicans to discuss, debate, and compromise? Newt thinks so.

If Obama and the Democrats want some ideas on health reform, especially from Republicans, then let them do some reading up and then get back to us. Here is my suggested reading list.

But let me save you some time, Republicans. Democrats know all that, and they don't care.  They don't want ideas. They especially don't want your ideas. They want one of two things: single-payer, or a world of hurt they can blame on you.

The latest Republican retread is retired senator Alan Simpson, whom Obama calls "a flinty Wyoming truth-teller." Simpson is co-chair of Obama's new National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. And the good news is that everything, including tax increases, is on the table. The flinty truth-teller had this to say:

This is about your children. This is about the future of America. This country is going to go to the bowwows unless we deal with the entitlements and Social Security and Medicare.

Really?  Why, we had no idea, Alan. You mean that there is a budget problem, and entitlements are a big part of it? Your folksy-flinty "bowwows" reference really brings it home to us bitter, benighted folks in flyover country who aren't good at math but like to pet dogs. It's too bad no one has thought of tackling entitlements before.

Oh, wait. President Bush did try to reduce Medicare costs. See above. He also tried to do something about Social Security in the last decade -- twice, in fact. Like President Clinton before him, he established a sixteen-member bipartisan commission "to study and report specific recommendations to preserve Social Security for seniors while building wealth for younger Americans" in 2001. He also proposed S.S. reform in his 2005 State of the Union address.

How did that work out?

[A]s expected, Democratic lawmakers prevented a vote on the matter, essentially ending the debate for the year. According to a report form the Associated Press, "Sen. Rick Santorum, (R-PA), said every attempt to reach across party lines on Social Security had 'met with a partisan obstructionism that is as rock-solid as the marble before me on the rostrum' in the Senate chamber.'"

I have a reading list to recommend to Alan Simpson and the rest of his commission: The Roadmap for America's Future. (My write-up is here.)

The Roadmap is proposed legislation, scored by the Congressional Budget Office and sponsored by a sitting congressman, Paul Ryan (yes, the same Paul Ryan who proposed The Patients' Choice Act). If Democrats want to debate with Republicans on how to cut deficits and reform entitlements, they have (1) a written proposal to work from, and (2) a forum for debate called Congress. They could, for example, go so far as to allow Ryan's bill to go to committee.

I guess a brand new commission outside of Congress is supposed to be better, though. (As a side note, the Constitution, Article I, Section 7, says, "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.")

Gingrich and Simpson are not the only ones. Sitting Senator Orrin Hatch thinks that the Tea Party needs to work with the Republican Party: "If we fractionalize the Republican Party, we are going to see more liberals elected."

Here is how cause and effect works, Senator. Republicans went from 55 Senate seats in 2005 to 40 after the 2008 election. The Tea Party movement started in 2009.

The Republican implosion led to the Tea Party, not the other way around.

I just went to the Library of Congress to see what legislation Senator Hatch sponsored. Here were the first three to show up.

  • S. 334. A resolution designating Thursday, November 19, 2009, as "Feed America Day." (Maybe Friday, Nov. 20, was "Obesity Awareness Day.")
  • S. 338. A resolution designating November 14, 2009, as "National Reading Education Assistance Dogs Day."
  • S. 215. A bill to authorize the Boy Scouts of America to exchange certain land in the State of Utah acquired under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act.

That is what a senior Republican Senator was doing in 2009 while the Tea Party movement was stopping Obamacare and Cap-and-Trade.

Don't lead. Don't follow. Just get out of the way.

Randall Hoven can be contacted at or via his website,
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