Posted by: Jeff | March 24, 2010

Battling Public Opinion on Health Reform

The latest line of attack by Congressional Republicans is to paint health care reform as unpopular policy.  In the weeks leading up to final passage of reform, the country was roughly divided between support and opposition of the bill.  How much of this is opposition to the actual language of the bill and how much is pure partisanship?  Look at the partisan divide on this week’s Gallup poll:

Pretty striking.  But seriously – what are the objections by the majority on the right? I’m not talking about wonks at CATO or Heritage who are worried about whether the government can really enforce the individual mandate or whether the health care industry can shoulder the burden of a shift away from emergency care and toward a greater emphasis on preventive care. These are all legitimate concerns, but not ones held by the majority of Republicans standing in firm opposition.

As Jonathan Chait has pointed out, this bill is a staunchly Republican one in the traditional sense –

It’s a reform designed in the mold of classic moderate Republicanism, melding fiscal responsibility and compassion for the poor and sick with a series of bold experiments to nudge medicine toward efficiency.

So the group I’m mostly talking about is the teabaggers – why are they opposed to the bill with such vehemence that they invade Capitol Hill and launch personal insults and invective at Democratic Representatives?

Well, here are some of the most common complaints by the vocal Right:

“The bill expands the size of federal government.”

Actually, it doesn’t. It decreases the size of the federal budget by $130 BILLION over the next ten years, and will decrease the federal deficit by a further $1 TRILLION in the ten years after that!

“The government has taken over health care.”

Actually, it hasn’t. There’s not even a public option in this plan. Medicare is expanded to cover more people, but that’s not government care – that’s simply insurance coverage.

“This bill slashes Medicare!”

This one is especially rich, given that the very same teabaggers are decrying a supposed bloating of the Medicare system. What the bill does is curb add-ons to Medicare – basically, it eliminates the possibility that people can just tack things on to Medicare and increase costs later on. It limits the growth of Medicare in the future, it doesn’t decrease funding in any absolute sense.

“This bill violates the free market!”

Actually, quite the opposite. By creating government-regulated exchanges for people to compare health care policies, this bill actually fosters competition and protects against monopolies.

“This bill funds abortions!”

Um, no. It simply doesn’t do that. The abortion “compromise” reached in the final hours of debate in the House merely reinforces prior legislation prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion procedures.  It was removed from the reform bill as part of a promise that President Obama will issue this reinforcement via Executive Order.  There’s no new movement either way, just entrenchment.

“Obamacare is 3/4 of the budget!”

Actually, it decreases in relative share of health care spending in the budget over the next ten years, and is still dwarfed in comparison to things like, oh, the Iraq War over the past seven years. One of the favorite tricks of Republicans like Mike Pence (R-IN) is to use the ten year projected cost of health care reform, ignore the fact that we’d be spending even more money on health care if we didn’t have reform, and then compare the figure to a one-year budget. Yeah, that’s intellectually honest, Mike!

“This bill creates death panels!”

Ok, Sarah Palin. A credibility buster. It doesn’t ration care. There is a real concern about the capacity of the medical system, predominantly in ICU and preventive medicine, but this isn’t really what teabaggers are talking about. They think there will be a panel of bureaucrats deciding if Grandma gets to have surgery or not. Nope – this decision will still be made by private insurance HMOs since there is no public option!

“This bill is unconstitutional, and our forefathers would be against it.”

Well, if our forefathers thought it was unconstitutional, they shouldn’t have included the Interstate Commerce Clause in the Constitution, granting the federal government the ability to regulate industries that span multiple states.

If elected Republicans were really worried about fiscal responsibility, they wouldn’t engage in frivolous lawsuits that scream “we’re sore about losing!”

“This bill would send me to jail if I don’t want health insurance!”

Well, it does change the law. So if you can afford health insurance and you don’t purchase it, then yeah, you’ll be penalized. To the tune of $94 on your next tax return. That’s the individual mandate. If you don’t pay the $94? Well, what happens when you don’t pay taxes to the IRS?


There’s a lot of misinformation floating around still, but as details become clearer, more and more people will be supportive of the bill. This may be the Republicans’ Waterloo – they’re showing that they are increasingly incapable of living in a world based on fact – they didn’t want a part of the policy debate and chose to spread lies and fear-monger about slippery slopes into socialism. Come November, they may not have quite the strong showing everyone expects them to.

President Obama accomplished what no President has done in nearly 100 years of trying – we have comprehensive health care reform. It’s not the end of the process, but it’s a new dawn.


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