During the George HW Bush administration the conservative think tank devised an alternative to the single-payer health care being proposed by Democrats. It followed the reasoning that was proposed by President Richard Nixon in 1974 (and even that was an extension of what Republican President Eisenhower had considered 20 years earlier) to require employers to buy private health insurance for their employees. It gave subsidies to those who could not afford insurance.
Nixon argued that this market-based approach would build on the strengths of the private system: “Government has a great role to play, but we must always make sure that our doctors will be working for their patients and not for the federal government.”
15 years later, an individual mandate was championed by Republicans as a free-market approach to health care because, according to the Heritage Foundation, it “resonated with conservative principles”; it promoted individual responsibility and opened up the unique healthcare market to endless profitability.
In 2006, Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, enacted an individual health-insurance mandate (with bipartisan support) and “RomneyCare” was praised. Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said: “Take some good conservative ideas, like private health insurance, and apply them to the need to have everyone insured.”
Barack Obama, running for President in 2008, took the torch for healthcare reform from Senator Ted Kennedy and made it part of his platform, and he was elected partly because of that promise. Yet it was very clear from the outset that single-payer reform, or anything resembling Universal Healthcare, would never meet the congressional approval needed to pass, and so the newly elected President dusted off the Conservative Handbook and the Affordable Care Act was born.
It was hurried, however, as time was going to run short when the Republican obstructionist agenda started to oppose the idea, and if it didn’t pass with Democrats in control of Congress it probably never would. I, like many others, was (and remain) critical of it’s implementation because subsidies for the middle class and cost reducing purchases over state lines were not part of the program, but I believed that it could be a “good start” if Congress cooperated.
But, that was not to be as every Republican Senator in 2009 voted to describe the mandate as “unconstitutional. ” Republicans, who had previously supported individual mandates, including Romney, emerged as critics. Why would they oppose what they once supported, even created?
The answer is simple: Politics.
It had to be sobering for Republican leadership to realize that if a Democrat were successful with giving Americans health coverage, and by opening up the health market that the Republican Party would be in jeopardy. Especially after the economic catastrophe realized by George W Bush’s continuation of what his own father dubbed as “Voodoo Economics.”
As so, the right wing emerged with a bankrolled vengeance and a new message was fed to the masses: “ObamaCare is unconstitutional and unsustainable.”
It wasn’t a hard spin to sell. Republicans had hammered spending and big government to the point where anything implemented by President Obama became a “cost burden that we cannot afford.” Never mind that deficit spending was practically pioneered by President Reagan or that it was Bush-era spending and tax cuts for the wealthy while funding two wars that ushered in the deepest recession in nearly 80 years; healthcare reform was going to be labeled “Big Government” and “Socialism.”
Never mind that ACA was a realization of conservative political thinking, it was now Obama’s and the right wing would give no quarter. The only agenda Republicans drew upon with consistent obedience was to destroy a Democratic presidency and they could bank on Americans having a short memory.
I am all in favor of voicing conflicting points of view in the Town Square; it is the way our Republic was intended to serve the best ideas. I believe that the polarity from opposing ideologies can lead to those new and better ideas.
I do not believe that there are any flawless realizations of any philosophical or ideological agenda, but when one side of the fence changes their core principles simply to oppose the other, then we are not having the debates that lead us to improved legislation.
Then we are only playing a dishonest political game to gain power. And that is not good for America’s health.