Posted by: Jeff | October 18, 2010

An Honest Talking Point from Democrats (From Republicans, Not So Much)

So it sounds like some of the Democrats locked in combat for various legislative seats in this year’s election are staking out a middle ground on the still-highly-controversial health care reform bill: Instead of repealing it, they just want to fix the flawed parts. Sarah Kliff’s article gives the impression that the Democratic party establishment isn’t too happy with this tactic. (Of course, this being Politico, whether or not there’s a real controversy here is a question worth taking with a grain of salt.) But I think this is actually a pretty smart and elegant talking point, for two reasons.

One, it makes the candidates seem centrist and reasonable — it acknowledges, in an emotive sense, the public concerns still swirling around the bill, without going so far as Republicans do in advocating outright repeal.

Two, it’s actually true! Health care reform was a huge, complex bill, and some parts really are flawed and need to be fixed. The 1099 tax-reporting requirements, for instance, get mentioned at least twice in the article. By all reasonable accounts, the thinking behind that provision was half-baked. As a result, the requirements are too onerous and badly need to streamlined.

But even better — and, for our purposes, more telling — is the suggestion by California Rep. Lois Capps that fixing health care reform should include a public option. It’s worth remembering that the public option was only controversial in Washington, where legislators had to cohere around a bill with enough votes to pass. In America at large, majorities have always favored the public option. But thanks to the way representation works, the distribution of sentiments amongst voters doesn’t match up in a 1 to 1 ratio with that of lawmakers. And the conservatives in the Democratic Party wouldn’t stand for a public option, so it died.

Of course, the original opponents of health care reform would hardly consider adding a public option to be a “fix” of any sort — they’d see that as making the bill even worse! And that points to the basic dishonesty still lying at the heart of the argument made by Republicans and conservatives. Yes, large numbers of Americans are opposed to the bill, or at least still highly skeptical of it. But the internal make-up of that opposition — and what voters would like to see instead — is pretty complicated, doesn’t fall neatly along partisan lines, and is often even self-contradictory. Yet whenever Republicans and conservatives bring these polls up, they’re always implying that approval would be better if the bill had hued closer to their own ideological preferences. The example of the public option shows that’s not true at all.

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