Chris Christie Shows Why the GOP Is Hopeless on Health Care

Chris Christie, the great Republican hope, shows why the GOP can’t capitalize off the Obamacare mess.

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New Jersey Gov.Chris Christie is interviewed at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council on Nov. 18, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

With the rollout of the health care exchanges created by Obamacare hitting some bumps, to put it mildly, and President Obama's approval rating falling to new lows, it seems like now would be the perfect time for Republicans to take control of the health care issue. Yet they haven't.

Why? To figure that out, look no further than the GOP's darling of the moment, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Fresh off a re-election rout, plenty of conservatives are pointing to Christie as the hope for a new, modern and revitalized GOP. And at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council 2013 yesterday, Christie knew his cue, saying, "Obamacare is a failure, it's always been a failure and it will not succeed. It just won't."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

But when asked what he would replace it with, Christie first demurred, saying he didn't have enough time to flesh out a solution, but then added:

Obamacare is wrong, it's a failure, it's the most extraordinary overreach of government power in the history of our country. And it's being run by people who have never run anything. So why are we surprised it's failing?

What do we need to replace it? We need a robust debate among both sides. Unlike last time, where the president jammed this down everybody's throat and got not one Republican vote because he was unwilling to make any compromise, including tort reform, for god's sake. Well, then this time we need a robust conversation between both sides where everybody brings skin to the table and everybody compromises. And if we do that we can craft a solution. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

This is just red meat, not a constructive discussion of the nation's health care problems. And it's emblematic of the mainstream GOP's fact-free approach to health care reform and the problems it's having landing punches against Obamacare.

For starters, it's simply incorrect that the Obamacare exchanges are "being run by people who have never run anything." Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, after all, ran a state (she was the governor of Kansas, not exactly a socialist utopia), which I imagine Christie counts as executive experience. And President Obama, like it or not, has been at the helm of the world's largest economy and military since 2009.

But far more importantly, Christie's only solution to the health care conundrum is more "debate." He seems to believe that health care reform would have gone just fine if mean old Obama hadn't "jammed this down everybody's throat" without making any compromises. That's revisionist history, to say the least.

Back here in reality, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., spent months fruitlessly trying to get Republicans to sign onto a health care bill, which was also endlessly debated in committee, in each chamber of Congress and on the airwaves. There are a slew of provisions in the law that come from various proposals Republicans have put forth over the years, including some lifted from their Obamacare alternative, but they earned Obama not one Republican vote.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Obama also ditched the public option – a government run plan in the health care exchange – as a concession, for which he got nothing in return except accusations that he was engineering a "government takeover" of health care.  Oh, and Christie's magical tort reform, the GOP silver bullet? Obama has offered it to Republicans multiple times, and in response, they did nothing. (Tort reform, in the end, would result in scant savings anyway.)

This is not to deny that Obamacare has its problems, but simply to highlight that the GOP had the opportunity to be constructive during the health care debate, and instead chose across-the-board opposition and obstruction as an explicit political strategy to bring about Obama's "Waterloo."

Now, years later and with Obamacare faltering, the best the GOP's newest star can muster is to tell the same old tales in the same old way. Complicating the matter is the fact that the few ideas conservatives do have for health care reform would result in many of the same things which Republicans are now criticizing. Reforms favored by the GOP would cause people to lose their insurance plans, even if they like them. And they would cut Medicare. Gasp!

Christie either knows this and can't say it, because he would then be vilified by the conservative base, or he is just another Republican who doesn't understand the tradeoffs involved in reforming America's inefficient, wasteful and oftentimes completely backward health care system. And his refusal to even try to formulate a coherent health care alternative shows why, even after 40-something repeal votes and a disastrous rollout of the exchanges, Obamacare is still very much the law of the land.

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