Republican cries for fiscal responsibility also ring hollow when you consider the party’s record of establishing higher-cost private Medicare plans and enacting a drug benefit that wasn’t paid for. The fact is that under the Republicans’ watch, critical problems of escalating health costs and access to affordable coverage were largely ignored.
Yet Democratic leadership worsened the erosion of bipartisanship. With dissonant voices excluded, too many Democrats failed to recognize that most Americans, who already have health insurance, wanted the assurance of continued, affordable coverage. Health security, especially in a severe recession, should have been the central concern.
Democrats trying to lead health care legislation through Congress made a multitude of missteps. One of these was to fixate for months on the “public option,” only to wholly discard it.
No less embarrassing was the way the majority leadership killed a bipartisan amendment to establish an F.D.A.-regulated system for importing prescription drugs. Safe importation would have produced nearly $100 billion in savings, $19.4 billion of which would have been realized by the federal government. But the amendment conflicted with the deal Democrats had made with the pharmaceutical industry.
Ultimately, Democrats decided to pass their bill with no Republican support, sacrificing bipartisanship and empowering every Democratic senator to seek inappropriate concessions.
Should they succeed in blocking reform, Republicans should take no consolation. When Congress next attempts reform, in a decade or more, health costs and the number of uninsured and underinsured will have escalated — and the likely outcome will be the single-payer system that Republicans most abhor.
Three in four Americans say the health care system needs to be overhauled, and many provisions in the pending legislation have strong support. What’s more, the core of the Senate’s legislation closely resembles the very bill the Republicans offered in 1993 as an alternative to the Clinton plan. This makes clear that bipartisan reform was achievable, and indicts Congress for its failure to realize that goal with broad public support.
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