EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 9, 2013

Column: Parties must cooperate to make health care law work

Jim Cain
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — As kids, we learn to stop throwing rocks, choose up sides for a ball game and get on with the task of growing up. As adults, we regress to childish ways but hopefully recognize the futility of this and assume a more reasonable posture to solve problems.

The GOP embraced the words of Mitch McConnell and created a new paradigm for governing or, more accurately, not governing. Opposition to anything Obama proposes doesn’t qualify as governance. Reducing government by pursuing its failure makes collateral casualties of those living on the margins.

The lineage of Obamacare is exhibit A in indicting the GOP for its abdication of responsibility to govern. The Heritage Foundation championed the individual mandate as an alternative to “Hillarycare” during Clinton’s presidency and it became a core element of Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It became a bad idea when it was adopted by Obama. In attacking the mandate, the GOP walked away from their bedrock principle of personal responsibility.

The GOP enshrined the words of Reagan -- government is the problem not the solution -- as the north star of their governing philosophy. It is looked to for guidance on budgetary issues with the exception of Defense spending and anything favoring the wealthy. Branding the ACA as socialism -- a government takeover of health care -- mischaracterizes a law which sets up a market place so those without health care can afford it. Additionally, it protects against “junk” plans the GOP feels serve a purpose.

The GOP has a siege mentality reflexively opposing anything Obama favors. Republicans under threat of being “primaried” by tea party clones -- like an array of nodding bobble heads -- have adopted obstruction as their default position. Some do this more willingly than others with moderate republicans left to wander the streets seeking shelter.

For the tea party, victory in the government shutdown and the fiscal cliff part 2 would have been the denial of health care to 35 million Americans. There needs to be a new way of characterizing this kind of “victory.” It’s not a pyrrhic victory -- a victory so costly that it’s empty and meaningless. It’s not a moral victory -- not in a Christian sense. Few would argue that denial of health care to people is very Christian. It is a kind of “Darwinian” victory where those who have the power prevail. Effectively, it says to those without health care “we got ours, now don’t bother us.” Ayn Rand could get behind that.

The GOP’s theatrical efforts to, repeal, defund and impede have been relentless. The “poison pills” -- the compromises that Democrats were complicit in -- received less attention.

During the health care debate, Democrats made the decision to simply “get something” on the table -- get something passed. There is an element of truth in the Pelosi quote, “you need to pass it to see what’s in it” that the GOP used to mock the process. Democrats did what they needed to do but compromised the life and substance out of what it might have been. The further they moved from a single-payer solution the more complex and difficult to implement the legislation became. Absent the power to stop the ACA or have it declared unconstitutional, making it difficult to implement was a welcome outcome for the GOP.

The GOP has become more transparent in opposing the ACA. They have stopped any pretense that they have an alternative other than a “thousand points of light.” The ACA is the result of the collision of the Democrats making concessions in the service of getting something “on the table” and GOP obstruction. Compromises became the poison pills that are now creating havoc in the implementation phase.

Republicans continue “the sky is falling, it’s a train wreck” chant hoping people will stay away from the problem plagued web site. In so doing, they are defending and even celebrating an outcome that would deny health care to 35 million.

I characterized the ACA as the “prime matter” of health care in a previous op-ed. While obviously an hyperbole since the ACA has form and substance, the point was that the ACA could be viewed as something that might still be molded into something better rather than, as the GOP insists, something to obliterate.

Opinion polls on the ACA reveal the paradoxical result that, while the majority of Americans are opposed to it in the abstract, they like the individual elements. Let’s stop the rock fight, look at what’s on the table and begin the process of making it better.

The GOP needs to disavow their reflexive opposition to anything “Obama” and assume the responsibility to govern that they have abdicated. The Democrats need to remember that, while the definition of a good compromise may be that both sides are dissatisfied, core principles are not sacrificed to the process.

Jim Cain writes from North Andover.