Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chait Trusts the GOP Too Much

Jonathan Chait thinks that Republicans would be in trouble on health care if they took over and acted on repeal:
Their public position was always to do all the popular parts of health acre reform without the unpopular parts, banking on the public's failure to understand that the unpopular parts were necessary to make the popular parts work. ...if Republicans were actually running Congress, they would have a choice. They could package repeal with a replacement bill. That would force them to...grapple with the fact that their bill could not actually solve the problems they said it could...Alternatively, they could either repeal the bill, full stop, as NR advises, and then worry about what to replace it with later.
So they're trapped; simple repeal makes them responsible for all the ills of the pre-2010 system, and they have no comprehensive plan that would work.

It's rare that Jonathan Chait underestimates the GOP's ability to be irresponsible, but he's doing it here.  Option three is an obvious one: repeal, and replace with a package of feel-good stuff that won't actually work.  Or, in some cases, will work, but not in the way that Democrats mean when they want a policy to work.  Yes, it's true that making malpractice lawsuits impossible won't actually do anything about lowering health care costs for consumers or government.  But it will be good for some GOP constituency groups, and give trial lawyers less money to give to Democratic candidates!  So part one of the GOP plan works just fine, from that point of view.  Yes, it's true that eliminating the exchanges, and adopting the conservative plan of having all insurance be sold out of the state with the least regulation, will stink for consumers -- but again, it would probably work out fine for insurance companies, at least in the short run.

And that last bit is really the point here -- not that Republicans try to reward their aligned interest groups (they do, but that's perfectly healthy politics, in my opinion), but that Republicans have shown very little hesitancy about enacting policies that are unsustainable into the future.

So for example,consider Ramesh Ponnuru's last response in my recent exchange with him.  Ponnuru understands that without an individual mandate the Obama plan will collapse into a race to the bottom as people just stop carrying insurance until they need it.  However:
If at some point Democrats really are willing to abolish the individual mandate, or the fines used to enforce it, then conservatives should take them up on it. The rest of Obamacare will then have to be repealed, because it can't work without such provisions.
Well, it's a disingenuous way to put it (if Democrats are willing?  Democrats aren't looking to repeal; the GOP is -- what he's really saying is if Republicans could get enough Dems to flip that it could get past a filibuster or a veto.  Democrats already proved beyond any doubt that they were willing to accept the unpopular provisions in order to get a policy result they wanted).  But his point here is clear: if simple repeal doesn't work, what Republicans should do is find ways to undermine it by picking at the least popular provisions.

Granted, his logic here is about as convincing as starve-the-beast theories that if only taxes are sufficiently slashed, then spending cuts would just have to happen.  The actual result if the unpopular portions of health care reform are repealed but the popular ones left intact is policy disaster -- which isn't an abstract notion, but means all sorts of harm to individual citizens, and to the nation as a whole.  What would happen after that is not predictable; perhaps Congress would then repeal other provisions, perhaps they would reinstate the mandate, or perhaps they would pass something entirely different.  Or maybe they would just sit by and ignore policy failure, regardless of the consequences.  The point is, Ponnuru -- and I think it's safe to say Republicans in general -- has no hesitancy here in calling for action that he believes would yield policy failure, on the assumption that it will be worth it in the long run.

It seems (oddly enough) not to occur to Chait that Republicans might be perfectly willing to enact policies they know won't "work" if it yields them short-term gains, but I suspect if he thinks about it a bit, he'll revise his opinion.


I feel a need for some sort of disclaimer here...this is not a partisan blog, and I definitely do not believe there is anything inherent in conservative thought (or, for that matter, in membership in the Republican party) that necessarily leads to irresponsible actions such as those I discuss above.  It's certainly possible, in my opinion, that the next set of Republican leaders, in Congress and the White House -- however conservative -- will have very different attitudes about such things.  But to date, I think it's more problematic to treat the Gingrich - Limbaugh - Palin - McCain Republicans as if they would inevitably act responsibly than it is to treat them as if there's an excellent chance that they would accept likely policy disaster if it furthers partisan or ideological goals.


  1. While conservatism, or even being a Republican, is not inherently irresponsible, the reality is that the Republican party has degenerated over that last few decades into first a party of partisan irresponsibility, and more recently into blithering nonsense.

    While there have always been idiotic fringes in American politics, I don't know that there has ever been a time when a major party has embraced such a fringe, and tried to present it as main-stream, as the R's now do with the tea-bagger set.

    I've heard it said that Eisenhower would not be welcome in the current R party, and I don't think it's hyperbole. I doubt that Goldwater would find a seat at their table - especially considering how some of his views shifted, later in life.

    As Bill Maher puts it - the Dems have moved to the right, and the R's have moved to the insane asylum.


  2. Reality has a well known liberal bias
    - Stephen Colbert


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