Should We Be Mad at Republicans?

There’s been a lot of anger among conservatives directed at Republicans leading up to the health care bill passing the Senate this morning. Is this anger justified? My answer is yes, but I mean that in a different way than other conservatives.

Much of the criticism of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has centered around him not playing hardball, and not doing more to obstruct passage of the health care bill during the Senate debate — and ultimately breaking the vow to force a vote on Christmas Eve (as opposed to this morning). As far as I’m concerned, while this may have been more emotionally satisfying in some respects, I don’t think it would have changed the outcome. Democrats control 60 votes, and if a so-called moderate like Sen. Ben Nelson is going to sell out so easily, then there is very little McConnell could have done to affect the outcome at this late stage in the game. He also deserves credit for keeping the Republican caucus united in opposition, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

At the same time, I’m not going to let Republicans off that easy, because conservatives should be angry at them. The reason why we have a liberal in the White House and why Democrats control overwhelming majorities in Congress is that Republicans failed badly when they were in power. Democrats were in a position to push a government takeover of the health care system, because when Republicans controlled things, they didn’t advance free market solutions. After Hillarycare was defeated in 1994, the sentiment was that they dodged a bullet, and could go back to ignoring the issue — while Democrats were quietly plotting for the next time they were in control. Sure, health savings accounts were a good thing, but they were narrow in scope, and far overshadowed by the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society in the form of the Medicare prescription drug plan.

By the time this year rolled around, Democrats were in power and Republicans were discredited. Meanwhile, all of the special interest groups (insurers, drug manufacturers, hospitals, the AMA and AARP) were on the side of those in power so they could carve up the pie at the expense of the rest of us. It was going to be an uphill battle to begin with, but Republicans dithered for months, and settled on a strategy that ended up focusing on protecting Medicare from cuts rather than going after something like the individual mandate, which would have struck a blow at the heart of Obamacare.

By the time it got to the Senate floor, I don’t think any tactical decisions by McConnell could have made up for more than a decade of Republican blundering. The Democrats had the votes and a willingness to cut whatever backroom deals they needed to. They were willing to do this despite the fact that public opinion has been overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, and even though a number of Democrats put their seats in serious peril by voting for this legislation.