David Frum calls passage of the health care bill a Republican/conservative Waterloo. After all, if only the Right had compromised, it could have extracted some concessions. He writes:
This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.
Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.
Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.
Well, yes. Maybe offering some GOP votes would have made the monstrosity less bad. There would still be massive spending and subsidies, but an income tax hike instead of a Medicare tax hike. Or not quite as big a fine for failure to buy insurance. A smaller penalty on businesses which don’t offer insurance. An amendment to preserve health savings accounts. Or something else.
But how would such a measure have represented “traditional Republican ideas”? Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts system has been a financial disaster which has left many people still uninsured and gaming the system, and primary care physicians stretched. There was little support among liberty-minded activists for an individual mandate even when it was advanced by Heritage. Counter-proposals to the Clinton program were acts of despair offered by those who feared that the proposed bureaucratic monster might actually be turned into law.
The Right did right fighting ObamaCare. Yes, we ended up four votes away from victory. But the battle crystalized the issue at a time when the majority of Americans believe that government has grown too big. Adding another budget-busting program–and any honest accounting shows it to be budget-busting–at this time was inexcusable. If one believes in limited government, then opposition was the only position possible.
In the past, too many Republicans have been too ready to accept Democratic ends if achieved through “Republican” means. That is, the GOP cheerfully voted to expand government, but only a little more slowly.
It’s as if someone showed up and announced that he planed to burn down your neighborhood. One response would be to say no and fight. The other would be to beg that only half of the houses be burned down the first night and the rest on the second night. The latter outcome–essentially the approach advocated by Frum–might not be quite as awful as the former. After all, half of us could flee with our belongings before our homes went up in flames. But taking the first course, with at least a small chance of victory, would be far better.
Why bother getting involved in politics if one’s goal is simply mitigating the worst policies, ensuring that government merely grows at, say, 2.79 percent rather than 3.11 percent a year? Or that when the federal government decides on policies, premiums, subsidies, and most everything else about health insurance, that it adopts a slightly less inefficient tax to fund its new spending?
Opposition was the only possible strategy. Frum might be right about the political impact: November is a long time away and it is dangerous to plan on redecorating leadership offices currently occupied by the other side. But if the Right does not take a stand on principle, then it will merely be arguing over who is the best manager of the bloated, costly, and meddling welfare state. That is not a debate worth having, at least among those who prefer to live in a society that deserves to be called free.
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