Sunday, December 20, 2009

Late-Night Tactics

Though many are pessimistic about the chances of stopping the Senate's version of the health-care bill, here are a few points to keep in mind for the Congressional GOP in the weeks ahead for the health-care fight:
  • Undercut the myth of inevitability. The aura of inevitability right now only helps the backers of Obamacare; few Democrats would want to risk angering the (often irritable) White House in a failed attempt at rebellion. In politics nothing is inevitable. All it takes is one Democratic Senate waverer to stop this thing in its tracks and force a more substantive debate on the bill. Even passage of a bill from the Senate in no way guarantees the passage of the bill as a whole. Does every Senate Democrat want to get stuck with supporting an unpopular failed bill?
  • Work across party lines. Even if Congressional Democratic leadership has turned its back on Republicans, Republicans need to reach out to Democrats in both the House and Senate. Appeal to concerns about cost, care for the elderly, abortion, effective medical care, legislative due process, electoral concerns---anything. Republicans must forge a bipartisan coalition of interests and values; that's perhaps their only hope of changing the course of this legislation.
  • Keep emphasizing the facts. Democrats are obviously afraid of the facts of this bill. That's why they're trying to rush it through. This morning's Face the Nation witnessed the spectacle of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) parrying focused criticisms of the text of the bill with invective against insurance companies. That level of vitriol shows how politically uncomfortable the Democratic position can be. Time---and transparency---is on the side of critics of misguided reform.
  • Keep appealing to the public. As a corollary to the preceding point, one of Obamacare skeptics' best resources is the court of public appeal, as "Henry Clay" suggested months ago. This bill, unlike Medicare when it was first introduced, is deeply unpopular. Skeptics need to use this unpopularity to their utmost advantage. Let wavering Democrats know the price they're going to pay at the polls if this measure passes; use public appeals to increase this potential price.
  • Find a sane middle ground for reform. There is a sensible, incremental territory to be found for reform. Republicans should propose and support amendments that push the current reform in that direction. Appeals to positive change can help provide another lever for maneuvering public opposition to the bill.
Republican and Democratic skeptics of Obamacare have considerable institutional forces aligned against them. But the battle is not over yet. The history of the debate about health-care reform in 2009 has been loud predictions of success for Obamacare followed by delays and increasing levels of public opposition. There is no reason why the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 should not continue in that tradition.

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