Articles

The GOP's Health-Care Offensive Has Just Begun

January 19, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described this week's House vote to repeal and replace ObamaCare as "partisan grandstanding." Other Democratic congressmen called it "a political scam," "unfortunate" and "fruitless." Liberal pundits described it as "useless" and "meaningless." All of which confirms that the GOP is on the right path.

Republicans said during the election campaign that they would take this vote. Seasoned Democratic observers like pollster Pat Caddell believe that opposition to ObamaCare helped drive turnout and draw independents into the Republican column. The GOP would have deeply damaged its credibility if it failed to follow through on its pledge.

Moreover, the fight against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, of which this week's vote is but the opening round, once again focuses public attention on the law's flaws. Virtually every claim the Obama administration has made on its behalf is turning out to be untrue. (Recall "If you like your current [health-care] plan, you will be able to keep it.") Or it wasn't credible to start with, such as the claim by the Office of Management and Budget that the bill will cut the deficit. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll this week showed that 62% see it as increasing the deficit, 54% think it'll hurt the economy, and 46% think the law will cost jobs. When Republicans have winning arguments, they should keep pressing them.

The House vote also gives the GOP momentum to make ObamaCare a principal issue in the 2012 election. That can't make vulnerable House Democrats who barely survived last fall's campaign, or the 24 Democratic senators up in 2012 (many in red states), happy. Nor can it be to the advantage of the president, who will also be on the ballot.

The longer this issue is around, the worse it's likely to be for Democrats. This year's ObamaCare-mandated Medicare cuts are geometrically larger than last year's. Dissatisfaction among health-care providers will continue rising as the new health-care law adversely affects their profession. The concerns of business leaders will become more pronounced as the law's mandates limit their choices while increasing their costs. And consumer discontent will grow as promised declines in insurance premiums and health-care costs don't materialize.

This is why health-care reform—unlike every other major piece of social legislation in modern history—has become less, not more, popular since it passed. A poll this week from Resurgent Republic (a group I helped form) showed that voters support Republican efforts to repeal and replace the health-care law by 49% to 44%, with independents supporting repeal 54% to 36%.

A slew of recent polls also show that Americans favor replacing ObamaCare with sensible reforms that increase competition and choice, and thereby expand access and lower cost. For example, the Resurgent Republic poll showed voters support, by 70% to 23%, the ability to buy health insurance across state lines. They back proposals that would make it possible for workers to take their health insurance from job to job by 53% to 36%. And they believe frivolous lawsuits drive up health-care costs by 53% to 38%.

Other GOP initiatives—like allowing people to save more of their paychecks tax free for out-of-pocket medical expenses, and letting small businesses pool risk to get the same discounts that big companies get—are similarly popular. President Obama said after the midterm election results that "he'd be happy to consider . . . ideas for how to improve" health care. Fortunately, Republicans have a ready agenda with widespread public backing.

Democrats have traditionally been more trusted than Republicans to deal with health care. They enjoyed a 34-point margin in 1991 and a 25-point margin as recently as 2005. But the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Republicans are now tied with Mr. Obama on the issue. It was not just the GOP's strong opposition to ObamaCare that closed the gap, though that was essential. It was also the Republicans' early efforts to sketch out a conservative vision of health-care reform.

Democrats are squawking about this week's House vote because it signals the start of a Republican offensive on health care, not the end of one. In 2010, Democrats got their law. In the process, Republicans got their issue.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, January 20, 2011.

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