The Party of (Less Than) Zilch

House GOP’s health care plan is heavy on politics, light on policy.

US Speaker of the House John Boehner (C)R-OH, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (L)R-CA and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor R-VA speak to the press after having lunch with President Barack Obama on Feburary 9, 2011 at the White House in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / Tim Sloan (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Nov. 21, 2013, 6:10 a.m.

You’re work­ing two jobs and have no health in­sur­ance, or are un­der­insured, or you worry about friends and fam­ily without cov­er­age. Here’s some news for you: Re­pub­lic­ans in charge of the House have an ag­gress­ive, mul­ti­part health care plan.

Trouble is, their plan won’t help you. It uses you. Heavy on polit­ics and ex­tra-light on policy, The New York Times re­ports on GOP ef­forts today:

WASH­ING­TON — The memo dis­trib­uted to House Re­pub­lic­ans this week was con­cise and blunt, list­ing talk­ing points and march­ing or­ders: “Be­cause of Obama­care, I Lost My In­sur­ance.” “Obama­care In­creases Health Care Costs.” “The Ex­changes May Not Be Se­cure, Put­ting Per­son­al In­form­a­tion at Risk.” “Con­tin­ue Col­lect­ing Con­stitu­ent Stor­ies.”

“The doc­u­ment, the product of a series of closed-door strategy ses­sions that began in mid-Oc­to­ber, is part of an in­creas­ingly or­gan­ized Re­pub­lic­an at­tack on the Af­ford­able Care Act, Pres­id­ent Obama’s sig­na­ture le­gis­lat­ive ini­ti­at­ive. Re­pub­lic­an strategists say that over the next sev­er­al months, they in­tend to keep Demo­crats on their heels through a mul­tilayered, se­quenced as­sault.”

“The idea is to gath­er stor­ies of people af­fected by the health care law — through so­cial me­dia, let­ters from con­stitu­ents, or meet­ings dur­ing vis­its back home — and use them to open a line of at­tack, keep it go­ing un­til it enters the pub­lic dis­course and forces a re­sponse, then quickly pivot to the next top­ic.”

The story by Jonath­an Weis­man and Sheryl Gay Stol­berg con­tains no men­tion of a uni­fied GOP plan to help Amer­ic­ans se­cure af­ford­able health in­sur­ance, be­cause there is no such plan. After op­pos­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s le­gis­la­tion that bor­rowed free-mar­ket ideas from Re­pub­lic­ans (he turned away lib­er­als’ calls for a single-pay­er sys­tem), the GOP’s only ser­i­ous solu­tion to the na­tion’s health care crisis is de­feat­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act. If you ask Re­pub­lic­ans about their plan, they’ll point to a web­site of warmed-over ideas and re­fuse to ac­know­ledge that Obama­care is, in fact, a GOP idea.

What party lead­ers failed to real­ize is that Obama might kill the ACA on his own with in­ept man­age­ment and de­cept­ive com­mu­nic­a­tions, a pos­sib­il­ity raised by many ob­serv­ers be­fore the Oct. 1 launch (in­clud­ing me here). Rather than get out of Obama’s path of self-de­struc­tion and fo­cus en­ergy on cre­at­ing and pro­mot­ing a pos­it­ive, for­ward-look­ing health care agenda, the GOP has chosen to ce­ment its repu­ta­tion as the ob­struc­tion­ist party.

The New York Times story re­veals the com­ing lines of at­tack: an­ec­dot­al il­lus­tra­tions of rate shock and people los­ing ac­cess to doc­tors. These are ser­i­ous is­sues, and I could think of oth­ers. For one, how do you con­vince young Amer­ic­ans to buy health in­sur­ance when they’re already adrift eco­nom­ic­ally? But be­cause of the GOP’s nar­row-minded fo­cus on zero-sum-gain polit­ics, only one party seems to be try­ing to help you. In a broad­er con­text, I wrote this week that Re­pub­lic­ans are be­com­ing “The Party of Zilch.” True or not, that’s the mes­sage their lead­ers are send­ing.

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