Smug Democrats Don’t Have the Healthcare Moral High Ground

Not paying for their bill is also a moral issue.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog 

If you look at the optics during the last few days of coverage from the healthcare bill's passage, you'll see shots of the Democratic leadership arm-in-arm with civil rights leader John Lewis; last night, Ted Kennedy's widow was on CNN saying how proud he'd be that the legislation passed; today the coverage of the signing ceremony included Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC marveling at the fact that Bernie Sanders and Bart Stupak were standing side by side in support for the "historic" bill. No mention of the fact that not a single Republican was there, or that the bill passed with only Democratic support--and even then, just barely.

Not only are Democrats overreaching a bit in terms of congratulating themselves, but they're going out of their way to vilify Republicans. My congressman here in Maryland, Chris Van Hollen, told Politico this morning that nothing would make him happier than Republicans running on a "repeal the bill" platform this fall. "Who am I to give my Republican colleagues advice, but if they want to run on, 'Repeal the bill,' we say: Make my day," Van Hollen said. "They will be clearly siding with the insurance industry ... to try to prevent kids from getting coverage."

Van Hollen ignores the fact that the Democratic healthcare bill actually sided with the insurance industry and gave insurers everything they wanted: mandated coverage for all Americans with very few cost controls. But he's got the larger point all wrong. Republicans don't want to take coverage away from sick kids. That's just as morally smug as putting this vote on a par with passage of the Civil Rights Act. Both arguments seem disingenuous to me.

Most of us agree that as a society, we have an obligation to provide healthcare to uninsured sick people. For Republicans, it's just a question of whether the government should actually do the providing. And if there is going to be government-provided healthcare, most people also believe there's an obligation to do so in a fiscally responsible way. That's what all those voters have been screaming about: Most people think the bill needs to be paid for. This bill doesn't do that. Paul Ryan, ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, talks about the fixes the GOP should propose rather than just repealing and going back to the status quo (click here for his answer on "repeal and replace"; the good stuff starts at 1:49).

Republicans agree the system was broken and that the status quo was financially unsustainable. And while it might feel good for Democrats to crow about the new bill, they're ignoring the recklessness of establishing a new trillion-dollar entitlement program without the money to pay for it. If you want to get moral about it, isn't there just as much of a moral obligation in finding a way to pay for healthcare as there is in providing it in the first place? 

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