A Real 'Government Takeover of Health Care' Might Have Worked Better for Dems

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out separate but identical press releases earlier this month targeting three Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts for their support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although the committee never referred to the bill by its formal name. Instead, it described it repeatedly as "the government takeover of healthcare."

The occasion for the release was the success on Tuesday, Nov. 8, of a ballot referendum in Ohio against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," as Republicans and many others delight in calling it. Sixty-six percent of Ohio voters gave a thumbs-up to the non-binding question against the bill.

The National Republican Congressional Committee built its press release, issued Nov. 11, on the premise that the citizens of Massachusetts need to know that "voters (in Ohio) reject the government takeover of healthcare Keating defended," Keating being the former state senator, former Norfolk County district attorney and current Congressman from the 10th Massachusetts District, Bill Keating. Here's the first paragraph of the release:

"Massachusetts Democrat Bill Keating proudly voted to keep the government takeover of healthcare in place earlier this year (Roll Call #14, 1/19/11), putting him at odds with American voters who continue to voice their strong disapproval. Ohio voters Tuesday sent a message that is having ramifications across the nation after every single one of the 88 counties voted to block the Democrats' healthcare takeover in their state. Keating's defense of the widely unpopular law will certainly strike a strong contrast with voters who increasingly recognize that this government takeover has done more harm than good."

So happy was the National Republican Congressional Committee with this line of attack that it used it simultaneously on U.S. Reps. John Tierney of Salem and Nicki Tsongas of Lowell, and God knows how many other Democrats across the nation, putting all of the same words in each release and changing only the names. Thus, the headlines became, "Voters Reject the Government Takeover of Healthcare Tierney Defended," and "Voters Reject the Government Takeover of Healthcare Tsongas Defended," etc., which showed, I guess, that Republicans are as human as the rest of us, for who among us, after coming up with a such a self-satisfyingly-clever line, can ever restrict its delivery to one occasion?

Each release ended on a mournful note to the effect that Keating, Tierney, Tsongas, et al., aren't "listening" to America. "Americans continue to voice their disapproval of the Democrats' government takeover of healthcare," it said, "but Bill Keating isn't listening. Instead of defending the law earlier this year, Keating should have recognized that the massive healthcare takeover, which is destroying jobs and seeing premiums rise, is making matters worse."

At first blush, one might think the National Republican Congressional Committee's use of the "takeover" formulation was a tad heavy-handed. No fewer than eight times in the 470-word release were the words "government takeover" used. However, I can personally attest to its effectiveness. By the time I was through reading it, my id was whispering insistently to my ego, "Obama seizes health care. Obama bad. Must be stopped."

(Pssssst: Does anyone in the Republican Party remember that Teddy Roosevelt, the rough-riding Republican of Rushmore fame, was the first politician of national standing to advocate for a national health plan? And does anyone in the GOP remember that Richard Nixon had a proposal for national health insurance that might have become law in the Seventies were it not for the opposition of Ted Kennedy and other liberal Democrats in the Congress -- a position that Kennedy came to rue?)

But give the Republicans credit for knowing how to play a good hand. Their relentless, post-enactment campaign against "Obamacare" has worked: a majority of the public dislikes and fears the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. When you're ahead on points, you pour it on.

The irony is that President Obama deliberately avoided a government takeover of health care when he decided to tackle health care reform, a challenge that makes ending the war in Afghanistan look easy by comparison, right out of the gate in 2009. Instead, he decided to work with the essential ingredients of the American health care system as he found it: private health insurance, fee-for-service medicine, employment-linked insurance, etc. The now-vilified mandate on all citizens to purchase health insurance was the big concession he made to the GOP-tilting insurance industry in exchange for the industry's acceptance of all customers, regardless of pre-existing conditions.

If Obama is defeated next November, and if he takes the Keatings, Tierneys and Tsongases of the world down with him, you'll be able to fill the mall in Washington with Democrats screaming how the Republicans jobbed them on health care. If Democrats are smart, they'll keep the crying to a minimum and bounce back quickly with a real plan for a government takeover of health care: Medicare for everyone.

They'll need something that good, that simple and that compelling to fix what's left behind when President Mitt Romney, the once-proud father of universal health care in Massachusetts, gets the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act repealed.

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