In a piece I started yesterday evening but never got the chance to finish, I noted that the Democrats seem to be getting cocky. After all, according to ABC’s Jake Tapper just yesterday, the Democratic Party leadership seems to believe that they have the votes to pass a health care reform bill in the near future. I also noted that, already, twenty-three Democrat congressmen have committed to voting “no” on the health care reform measures currently slinking through the House, and that other Blue Dog Democrats, like Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross, have promised to oppose any plan that includes a “public option.”
I wasn’t brave enough to come out and say “I don’t think they have the votes,” but I did caution that “[o]bviously, Capitol Hill can be turned on its head overnight due to any number of factors.”
Now, I know how ridiculous it is to quote something that never was posted, but I must admit that when I saw the breaking news alert at the Drudge Report a few minutes ago, detailing how the Democrats indeed do not have the votes to pass health care reform either with or without the so-called “public option,” I wanted to kick myself twice — once for not being brave enough to follow through with my guess, and again for not doing so and posting the darned thing.
The news from Drudge, showing that “[a]t least 44 more moderate Members of the Democrat Caucus have gone on the record in opposition to the current health care bill in the House” and “at least 57 liberal Members of the Democrat Caucus have gone on the record saying they will vote against a health care bill without a strong public option,” only underscores how important tonight’s presidential speech to a joint session of Congress, as well as the rebuttal from Louisiana Republican Congressman Charles Boustany–a former heart and lung surgeon–really is.
Regardless of whether or not tonight serves as the unveiling for a White House-spearheaded health care reform bill, I have a few ideas about what will be said by the president, and what I hope will be said by Congressman Boustany in response.
- I wouldn’t be surprised to see the president lead with an outright lie about GOP involvement, meant to temper the tempers of angry opponents of the Democrats’ proposals. The entire legislative process behind the passage of health care reform, the president will likely say, has been and will continue to be bipartisan. I hope that Congressman Boustany will in turn point out that the president has not met with Republican leaders about health care since April, and that the Democrats are looking to pass the legislation through reconciliation if necessary.
- Health care reform Obama will say, will bring stability to the lives of those eighty-plus percent of Americans who do have health insurance and are happy with it. To this, I hope Rep. Boustany will point out how a government-run health insurance option will lead to single-payer health care through the market forces and the natural inability for private sector insurance providers to compete with an entity which doesn’t need to report a profit, and sets all of its own rules.
- Health care reform will also, he’ll say, provide affordable coverage to the 46 million people currently uninsured in America, and will bring stability to the lives of those who do have health insurance. Here, Boustany should explain that only 15 million or so American citizens are currently truly uninsured, and that there are several other options that could provide coverage for those people without running up a $2 trillion bill and screwing up the free market approach to health care that makes our system the envy of the world. The first of those options is a blanket major medical coverage specifically provided by the federal government, kind of in the same way that food stamps are provided for assistance. The second option includes opening up interstate competition among private health insurers in order to reduce costs through competition, augmented by a tax credit provided to those who don’t have coverage so that they may purchase it. Another option would revolve around the government changing the tax code so as to encourage charitable giving, and to provide major medical coverage through private charities and private insurers. Obviously, there are more options, but any pointed out in the rebuttal should focus on the free market and the private sector rather than reliance upon a government-run option.
- And the cost of health care in the United States is skyrocketing, Obama will say. Later, Boustany should point out the need for tort reform and, again, the advantages of opening up the insurance industry to interstate competition. Not only should we stop the federal government from getting establishing a public option that would lead to single-payer, but we should stop current government interference in the private sector as well. A hands-off approach to health care would foster true competition, and Americans would see a drastic reduction in health care costs.
Obviously, that’s not it. The president will inevitably talk about how close the Democrats are to passing a bill, but he’ll be lying about that, as they simply do not have the votes. He’ll mention that several prominent figures on the political right–Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, though I’m not certain he’ll name names–have been spreading disinformation, but he’ll be lying about that, as the only group consistently misinforming the American public has been the White House. And I’m quite certain that he’ll label the Republicans as obstructionists, and suggest that opponents of the Democrats’ proposals should come up with one of their own that would keep costs down, insure uninsured Americans, and provide more competition in the insurance market, but he’ll be lying about that as well, as the Democrats’ own plans would bankrupt this country (and recoup costs through rationing), would according to the Congressional Budget Office still leave 17 million people uninsured after ten years, and would stifle competition and in fact put private insurance out of business.
Boustany has a lot on his plate. He’ll need to explain that Democrats have routinely rejected Republican ideas. He’ll need to remind people that the White House has worked overtime to stifle debate, even going so far as to collect information on dissenters. He’ll need to set the record straight on what government-run health care means to seniors, to small businesses, and to the people who have coverage and like it. He should explain the cuts which will be made to Medicare pursuant to the Democratic Party plans, and address the $3,800 fine levied against any who do not have coverage. He should address the cost savings that would be brought about through tort reform and through opening up interstate competition in the private insurance industry. He should also point out that Republicans like Sen. Jim DeMint have given dozens of floor speeches and have indeed come up with alternatives, but such efforts have largely been panned by the mainstream press. Most importantly, because of his background as a doctor, Congressman Boustany should explain to everyone exactly what the Democrats’ idea of health care reform would mean for practices nationwide, how it would affect patient loads, and the personal nature of care.
Whatever he does, Congressman Boustany faces an uphill battle. Back in February, I wrote about how Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal largely fell victim to an outdated rebuttal format following Barack Obama’s first speech to a joint session of Congress.
The problem is inherent in the process, a process which last night got the better of the beleaguered Jindal. Whether the response is coming from a Democrat or a Republican, it’s always the same. Minutes after seeing a speech performed nicely in front of a packed, grandiose House chamber with applause and standing ovations interspersed throughout, television viewers are whisked into the office, living room, den, foyer or bathroom of some unlucky schlub charged essentially with the equivalent of following Robin Williams in his prime with a prop comedy act, sans props. It’s impossible. It simply cannot be done well and, in the case of the Republicans in this political climate, it simply cannot be as effective as we need. Furthermore, with master orator Barack Hussein Obama giving speeches filled with soaring, perfectly delivered rhetoric to joint sessions of Congress for the next three years, the Republicans simply must get it right. This is one of few times each year where many people who normally prefer Sportscenter to Special Report actually tune in and pay attention; such an occasion cannot be wasted.
Change must come to the Republican response. The days of parading the future of our party out into such an impossible situation and essentially throwing him or her to the lions must end. Tonight was no way to introduce Bobby Jindal to the masses, at least not without creating some sort of dynamism from an inherently static, stiff environment.
Perhaps it can be something simple, such as using text graphics to better break up and organize the substance of the response. Every night in the opening minutes of The O’Reilly Factor, producers at Fox News Channel manage to display Bill O’Reilly’s words on the screen as he says them. Personally, I find it to be annoying, but if such a mechanism had been employed last night in order to effectively and clearly structure the speech and lay out bullet points, the response would likely have been perceived in a different manner. Jindal’s speech reads a whole lot better than it was delivered — I could see at least five or six distinct places where a simple visual heading could have made a world of difference.
As I mentioned that night, I would have preferred situations like the one we’ll see tonight be met with something a little more dynamic, like a panel of Republicans meeting and discussing the issue informally, so the American public feels more like a guest at a dining room table than a student being subject to a monotone lecture. I felt for Jindal that evening, and expressed my hope that something would be done in the future to make this procedure a little more engaging, a little less dry.
Nevertheless, whatever the format, I hope that Boustany stays on message, and shows that the GOP is a party advocating a limited federal government, and that there is no room in a limited federal government for sweeping overreach into the American health care system.
Tonight is crucial. And tomorrow will be as well. In the wake of tonight’s speech, I encourage each and every one of you to call your congressman and senators tomorrow and Friday. Make your voice be heard and let them know that, even though the recess has ended and they are a little more isolated from concerned constituents, the concerns of those constituents do not stop at the Beltway.