Monday, July 27, 2009

GOP DOA on Healthcare Reform

Depending on the outcome of the healthcare insurance reform legislation being crafted on Capitol Hill the GOP may yet see a crack in the door on Election Day in 2010 that they will be all too willing to try and pry open. 58 percent of all voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who would be a check on President Obama and congressional Democrats. Notably, Ticket-splitters and Independents are very open to casting their vote this way, 62% and 61% respectively. Some in the GOP advocate letting President Obama and the Democrats get their reform on a party line vote so the GOP can later say they had nothing to do with it – perhaps a viable strategy if the guaranteed outcome is failure. The GOP cheerleading failure, particularly on such an important issue, is no way to become relevant.

In the healthcare insurance reform debate the Republican Party does not have the horses to keep up with President Obama. 61 percent of voters view Obama favorably, with Ticket-splitters and Independents being equally supportive – giving Obama a 2:1 favorable to unfavorable ratio. In this contest, Obama is cruising comfortably ahead in a Bugatti Veyron and the GOP is puttering well behind in a Deux Chevaux.

Absent voters believing Republicans are simply obstructionist on this issue, the issue could have been an ideal platform from which the GOP could have mounted a robust comeback at the polls in 2010. As it stands, 65 percent of voters think the GOP falls into one of three categories o the healthcare reform debate: 1) on the side of insurance companies and the pharmaceuticals; 2) would leave too many Americans without healthcare insurance; and 3) are simply in opposition to any plan offered by Pres. Obama and Democrats in Congress. Watching the GOP in this debate is reminiscent of Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom when his character responds to a question about the voltage used in his do-it-yourself electrician project, saying “220, 221, whatever it takes.” The GOP looks a whole lot like a home improvement hobbyist who has no clue and risks electrocuting themselves in the process.

Unfortunately, it is likely the GOP will act the obstructionist part, since voters already expect it from them. On the way to a party-line vote Republicans will criticize: the tax increases to fund the legislation; a government bureaucracy making healthcare decisions for patients (and invoking the IRS and DMV as examples of what a government run program will be like for patients); reckless spending to underwrite the legislation; and the cuts in Medicare and Medicaid to fully fund the Obama healthcare reform package. Red Elephant does not advocate such a GOP posture on this generational legislation because it defines the Republican Party as the party of No and does not help the important task of rebranding the GOP in a way that makes it salient.

Coupled with this obstructionist posture, the GOP will likely advocate their Leisure Suit proposals. There’s a reason why these proposals have been in the back of the closet; they’re dated and hard to take seriously. Policy proposals like the obvious needs to reduce and control individual costs; protect the doctor-patient relationship; preserve and improve quality of choice; and end lawsuit abuse to control healthcare insurance costs are all retreads of past GOP talking points that do not address how to fundamentally reform a broken system.

The GOP’s problem on scaring voters about the cost of the Obama healthcare reform package is that 59% of voters do not believe the legislation will increase the debt because President Obama has promised it will be budget neutral. With only 29% of voters trusting the GOP to fix healthcare, Republicans find themselves suffering from a credibility gap, a result of carrying too much water for the Bush White House way back when.

Taxes used to be the GOP’s wheelhouse and should be an issue where Republicans can contrast themselves with Democrats to begin to redefine the party as fiscally responsible. Again, the GOP's past evangelism of Bush budget policies, President Obama’s credibility with voters and facts will haunt the GOP’s efforts on this bread and butter issue. President Obama has vowed that taxes will be increased only on those earning more than $250,000 annually. That figure represents two percent of all U.S. households. And while 71% of voters oppose raising $600 billion in new taxes to fund the healthcare legislation, that number will change dramatically when 98% of voter households realize they are not in the taxable bracket and won’t see a tax hike.

Unable to contend head-to-head, the GOP has chosen a strategy of delay and fear mongering. As the GOP has not done the hard work of redefining itself, voters will not pay much attention to what Republicans have to say on healthcare insurance reform. Using scare tactics too often in the past has dulled voters’ senses; the GOP is the boy who cried wolf. Rather than finding a way to become relevant, the GOP is banking that this time the wolf really is at the door and that it might be better to let it in to terrorize the household so at least they’ll gain some “told you so” credibility.

The alternative plan offered by Republicans provided for a federal-state healthcare insurance exchange. This plan eliminates tax breaks for employers who provide workers health coverage and gives individuals and families tax cuts to pay for their healthcare insurance while providing for captive insurance entities. This exchange would be governed by a non-profit, independent board to police underwriters to make sure applicants are treated fairly and the rules obeyed (because that approach worked so well on Wall Street?). Such a proposal is dead on arrival since it is offered in the aftermath of the financial crisis that should have been prevented by similar oversight architecture. Further, the GOP plan did not include costs, which is like a parent scolding their child for scoring poorly in algebra when the parent doesn’t know the difference between a variable and a constant.

Rather, the GOP should step up and construct a viable alternative (with costs and funding mechanisms) that addresses how to fund healthcare insurance reform. Frankly, this is an opportunity to play some small ball and build credibility with voters. A reasonably constructed alternative plan would present the GOP as diligent and serious and do far more to position it for gains in the 2010 elections than will dusting off the Leisure Suit and trying to get the prettiest girl at the dance to notice them.

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