Donna Brazile: Welcome to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
There they were, sitting around the table just a few days ago, Democratic lawmakers who had finished months of negotiations on a health-care bill and their Republican counterparts committed to blocking all reform.
Democrats came prepared to end 60-plus years of lawmakers failing to rein in rising health-care costs. Republicans came prepared to insist that Congress start the process all over again with a blank sheet of paper. “It really is time to scrap the bill and start over,” declared House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
What good does a blank sheet of paper do? We already know where each side stands, where their positions overlap, and where they are separated by an ideological chasm.
Republicans entered the debate unwilling to use the proposed bills as anything more than paperweights. They are obstructionists, plain and simple.
There is nothing the Democrats could write on that blank sheet of paper that the Republican minority, the health-care lobby and the Tea Party movement wouldn’t oppose. The Republican strategy: If a Democrat is suggesting it, it must be bad. I’m not just venting, folks. The Republicans opposed President Barack Obama’s proposal even though many of its key tenets were bipartisan and originated in Republican proposals. But since the president supports it, it must be bad — and so they’ve changed their minds.
Since the 2008 election, Republicans have publicly opposed just about everything the president has proposed, including their own programs and ideas. Yes, even including some of the Bush-Cheney antiterrorism policies, because it’s Obama who is now commander in chief.
This has nothing to do with Washington gridlock. This is hyper-partisanship and a power play, folks.
The president’s indisputably bipartisan bill includes the ability to buy health insurance across state lines. GOP leaders like Sens. Mitch McConnell (KY), Lamar Alexander (TN), John McCain (AZ) and Reps. John Boehner (OH) and Eric Cantor (VA) championed this idea for months on the Sunday talk shows. Yet, now that it’s in the final legislative proposal, they say no.
In addition to his tabula-rasa proposition, Boehner argues for a “step-by-step” re-creation of the health-care-reform universe. Not because he wants new or different ideas, but because he wants to continue the stalemate.
In the GOP Mad Hatters at a Tea Party viewpoint, voters will fire the Democrats for getting nothing done and reward the Republicans for seeing that nothing happened.
In their upside-down Mad Hatter world, Republicans think the Democratic health-care bill, even when loaded with their proposals, is a purely Democratic beast, and so they argue against themselves solely to maintain a unified anti-Obama front. Just watch: If the president goes the reconciliation route, these Mad Hatters will yell: “Partisanship at its worst! He never intended to cooperate!”
With the stakes so high, it’s a sad spectacle to watch. When so many Americans are filing for bankruptcy because trying to stay alive left them broke, it’s a tragedy. And when you believe that people who have lost their jobs don’t need unemployment benefits because it makes them lazy, you’re actually being mean.
Curiously, Republicans are no strangers to using the reconciliation process as an end-run around Democratic opposition. There exists a parliamentary procedure called “amendment by substitution,” which means that senators could amend the current bill out of existence by substituting the Republican bill, in toto, for “ObamaCare.”
But Republicans don’t want to do that. They don’t want their bill to be the center of attention. They want the partisan fighting to continue. They see themselves reaping greater political rewards by tearing down the president and the Democrats. Truth is, they don’t have a better plan. They just want to win back control of Congress.
But guess what? Those sleeping liberals and moderates who stood in long lines to vote for change will soon wake up. They will ask Republicans, “We know what you’re against, but what are you for?”
And they are not interested in some slapped-together proposals to prevent Democrats from owning the debate. The GOP’s alternative, if you can call it that, was pulled together faster than a Dagwood Bumstead midnight sandwich.
Our current health-care system is broken. If we do nothing, premiums will continue to rise faster than wages. Medicare will go bankrupt in a few years. More people will suffer and die because they lack health care. This is a moral tragedy and a national crisis. This is not politics for the sake of politics.
Those opposed to doing anything must be prepared to defend the status quo because that’s what we’ll get if we listen to them. To force insurance companies to be fair to everyone across the board, we need the intervention of the federal government — our lawmakers.
Maybe that’s too much to ask. At this point, I’d settle for passage of a smaller bill that helps lower my annual premiums, allows me to give my employees full benefits, allows those without insurance to find an affordable plan, and, yes, allows me, as a woman, to pay the same as a man.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.
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