Thursday, August 27, 2009

Health Care Reform Debate Revisions

This just in -- with the death of Ted Kennedy, KennedyCare is the new ObamaCare. The liberals who embrace the "public option" (translation: Government-run, single payer system) are planning to roll out over 500 newly organized town hall meetings in the next 14 days to counter and hopefully steamroll the conservatives in opposition. It's all political theater at its best, knowing they have all the votes needed to pass whatever they want. They are floating openly some threats to deploy the 51-vote simple majority "reconciliation" option if necessary if they fall short of the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority needed to win in the Senate.

Just a quick explanation. "Reconciliation" is one of those archane Senate procedures to assure budget items get timely treatment without getting bogged down. Historically, that's what got the Bush tax cuts done in the first place when the Republicans were in charge. Since tax cuts are essentially a budget issue, no big deal even though the Democrats cried "foul" back then. But the Republicans are now crying "foul" because if the Democrats use it for erecting what would potentially be the largest entitlement program in history, that move -- use of what is being dubbed "the nuclear option" -- would potentially have adverse consequences and shut down the work of the Senate for decades to come.

But I digress. The flip side of the political strategy from the Republican point of view is even more compelling if you're a Mitt Romney watcher and supporter. The ultra-liberal approach is essentially what Mitt Romney rolled out in Massachusetts as governor, but without making the government the single payor. There are some who are making the case right now that it may signal the second coming of a Romney presidential bid for 2012.

No matter what your feelings about health care reform, one thing is clear -- it's become a (so far) "peaceful rebellion" as John McCain described it the other day in one of his town halls. Both sides are intensifying and sharpening the attacks as they gear up for the end of the August recess and the beginning of the big reform push when Congress reconvenes. It turns out Mitt Romney has a lot to say about health care reform and the issue might be playing right in to his hands.

Despite heading up Massachusetts’ health care reform "experiment" as governor, and even though he brought it up as an issue repeatedly in the 2008 campaign, Romney hasn’t gotten all that much attention in the health care debate so far. But that seems to be changing.

A week ago, I caught him briefly on the CBS Early Show criticizing Obama’s supposed loyalty to “the extreme liberal wing of his party” as well as to talk up his own health care plan. Late last month he told Newsweek that Obama was betraying his campaign promises of bipartisanship by “jamming through a piece of legislation that has numerous flaws”; CNN recently touted “Romney-care” as an alternative to “Obamacare,” and next March will see the debut of a new book laying out his solutions for the U.S., including health care reform. And you don't think he's gearing up for 2012?

For those who don’t know, Romney’s plan in Massachusetts is essentially the same as Obama’s plan (don't be shocked) -– individual mandates, subsidized coverage, a clearinghouse for tightly regulated health insurance options, and an employer pay or play stipulation –- but the essential abhorrent feature of ObamaCare is missing in the Romney plan, because there's no dreaded "public option."

Given this, Romney's got to be licking his chops in preparation for the kill. If health care reform passes (and it probably will in some fashion because the Dems have all the votes they need without or without Republican support) and ObamaCare ends up looking a lot like the reforms over which Romney presided as governor (i.e. no public option), then he can go around bragging that he got health care right the first time. He'll then be able to point out that Obama put the country through months of hardship and political strife when he could have just had Mitt as his advisor. Indeed, in his Early Show interview and in a radio interview with Sean Hannity, Romney defended his model as a rousing success and in the Newsweek interview above he notes that no Democrats have called him to ask for health care advice.

On the other hand, if health care reform passes as liberals want to see it with the public option, then Romney will just rail against big government, pointing to the Massachusetts plan as proof that reform can happen without a government-run option.

And if health care reform doesn’t pass at all, Romney can proudly note that he was able to pull it off as a Republican governor in a Democrat-controlled state. No matter how you slice it, the hubbub over health care reform could provide Romney with a golden opportunity to regain some of the relevance he lost when he got painted as a questionable conservative in losing the GOP primaries to McCain.

One final thought: If the real difference in this debate is that the conservatives (Romney/McCain) hold there should be no public option, and the liberals (Obama/Kennedy) hold there should be, who's to say there's really that much difference between the two extremes? Oh, except two unalterable truths: 1) Government-run ANYTHING will always cost more than originally projected; and 2) it will always be less efficient than private enterprise. Lest we forget.

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