When you get right down to it, it’s hard to believe Republicans want to run against health care in next year’s midterm elections. But that does seem to be the road they’ve chosen, as Dana Milbank’s report in the Washington Post makes clear. You’ve got Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky complaining how the Baucus bill “tramples on American freedom and liberties,” (before nodding off to sleep). There’s John Kyl sounding like a broken record: “This bill is a stunning assault on liberty.” In fact, the Republican contribution to the “debate” in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday had little to do with health care reform at all.
But that’s not to say the GOP has nothing to contribute to the subject. The Republican Study Committee, an alliance of more than 100 self-identified fiscal conservatives headed by Tom Price, has issued a slew of health care proposals, surely intended to protect members on the stump in 2010.
The most important of these proposals concerns Medicare, which conservative hardliners have long viewed as a slippery slope to socialism. At least two of the RSC proposals would give seniors the right to opt out of the program entirely and get back any money they may have paid in. It’s difficult to imagine this being a big vote winner. But as with other GOP efforts to privatize programs like Social Security, the political logic is to undermine people’s attachment to a bedrock entitlement program identified closely with Democrats. And ripping away at Medicare in this manner would also be a bonanza for the insurance industry.
Already, Medicare is seriously compromised because it is required to run the program through private insurers which skim profits off co-payments and prescription drugs, whose manufacturers are barely regulated in the prices they charge. Real cost efficiency would mean kicking the insurance companies out and having the government negotiate drug prices. Neither is likely to happen anytime soon.