I actually watched the majority of the afternoon session of the Health Care Summit and caught most of the morning session in internet clips - for a great "live blog" full of video check out the Daily Caller's coverage here. I had my doubts about what would happen, but I thought it was actually pretty good. The Republicans came with real alternatives and ideas for reform and took away the Democrats' best talking point for the upcoming election.
As for the substance of the conversation, I'd like to offer my view by taking apart Paul Krugman's column in the NY Times. Krugman asserts that the Republicans came to the debate with nothing more than "slander and misdirection." In his view, the GOP offered no ideas and showed heartless disregard for the plight of "real" Americans.
This is a nice talking point, but flatly untrue. Speaker after speaker told the President that they shared the Democrats' desire to stop insurance companies from dropping patients who become seriously ill or denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. True, Republicans didn't trot out constituent sob stories to make the point, but sentimentality rarely makes for good public policy. Krugman portrays the GOP plan in predictably demonizing fashion:
In reality, House Republicans don’t have anything to offer to Americans with troubled medical histories. On the contrary, their big idea — allowing unrestricted competition across state lines — would lead to a race to the bottom. The states with the weakest regulations — for example, those that allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence — would set the standards for the nation as a whole. The result would be to afflict the afflicted, to make the lives of Americans with pre-existing conditions even harder.Krugman should know better. Less than ten minutes of searching on the Internet - damn that Google and its efficiency - and you can find legislation that the Republicans offered that cover pre-existing conditions. Title 1, Section 101 of the GOP Substitute Amendment to the House bill covers this issue and Sec. 101(c)(1)(E) caps the premiums of the pools at 150% of the standard risk rate in the state where the pool exists. Also in Sec. 101(c)(1)(G) the pools are required to cover "preventive services and disease management for chronic diseases." The risk pools are also subsidized by the government up to $25 billion to offset the cost to insurers. They also prohibit insurers from dropping an individual once they become sick.
To say that there can be no compromise on pre-existing conditions is a lie and it betrays the Democrats' desire to paint opponents of their bills as evil tools of the insurance industry. Their goal is not simple reform but destroying the opposition so that government is the only viable option.
The big problem for the Democrats going forward is that they can no longer claim the GOP is the party of no ideas. They can no longer say that there is no area of agreement or that Republicans are unwilling to reform at all. Krugman's usual hyperbole again does not disappoint:
So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.This, again, is nonsense. While there was definitely talking points on both sides, there was very substantive discussion about the nature of reform. Paul Ryan's excellent dismantling of the Senate bill and Tom Coburn's discussion of waste and fraud are just two examples of real disagreement, not pathetic pandering. If anyone is guilty of the tactics Krugman so vehemently denounces, it was congressional Democrats. They are the ones who used misdirection and demagoguery in their statements. Pelosi and Rockefeller blasted insurance companies for their greed. Harkin defined opposition as the moral equivalent of supporting segregation.
The President handled himself well enough - he even acknowledged that entitlement reform is budget reform and left the door open to malpractice reform - but his fellow Democrats did not help him at all. They came off shrill and seemed to be saying that we just need to pass something - anything - now because it will be too late if we don't. Which, really, is kind of silly when most of their reforms don't kick in for 3 or 4 years but the funding mechanisms kick in immediately.
The Republicans, on the other hand, were very well-prepared and on message throughout. They seemed sincere in their desire for reform, but held firm that the current bills are too expensive and too intrusive. The President mentioned at the end that he hoped there would be some agreement in the coming weeks. If not, he said, that's what elections are for.
That may be a statement the President comes to regret.