Republican Policies? Where are They?

And so the Republican hand wringing over the election continues, and you can expect some serious fighting within Republican ranks over the future of the GOP. Some great back and forth between some thoughtful Republicans, and a few of them are on to something (in my Democratic opinion). Besides numbers and polls what happened to the Romney message, or what was the Romney message?

As best I can tell Romney’s message was that President Obama had not done enough to fix the economy, and that Mitt Romney had the skills to make the changes necessary to create 12 million jobs. Leaving aside all of the political talk about Romney not being the right messenger, and all of the other political criticisms of the campaign, what about the substance of the campaign? Did Romney actually produce major policy ideas? My Republican friends seem to now realize that the campaign was bereft of anything other than we need to get rid of Barack Obama. There are so many policy areas that this applied to, but lets look at health care.

The Republican (Romney) message was that the Health Care Reform Act (Obama-Care)needed to be repealed. He said he would do so on day one of his presidency. The mantra was “repeal and replace”, but the Romney folks could never quite say what “replace” meant. As I had the arguments over Obama Care with my Republican friends I always asked a very simple question: What is the Republican policy on health care, beyond repeal? I got plenty of shrugging, but no specific answers except:

1) Tort Reform.

2) Allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines.

Without going into much detail tort reform would produce some minor savings (on a percentage basis) but is no “solution” to the problems in our health care system. The purchase of bare bones policies across state lines really does nothing to help, and has some major problems from a logistical point of view. Neither “solution” brings anything to the table as far as pre-existing conditions, uninsured, real cost containment, or “free riders”, and a host of other health care issues. I think it is fair to say that most real health care analysis from both left and right agree with that assessment. So, while nobody expects the man on the street to be expert in health care we do expect a Presidential campaign to be fluent in such policy. The Romney campaign fumbled this ball badly, having to walk back on at least two occasions misstatements by Mitt Romney that said his “plan” would cover pre-existing conditions. The campaign actually gave answers that were less substantive than those that I heard from Republican partisans I talked to on the street. How do you cover the uninsured? No answer! (Sending them to hospital ER’s is not a policy idea. It is rank stupidity) What should you do about “free riders” in the insurance market? No answer (except opposing the originally Republican idea of an insurance mandate).How do you contain cost? No answer. And on and on we go.

This post is not meant to persuade on the President’s health care bill. But Obama has a policy for the uninsured. He has a policy to help make the insurance market work, including for those with preexisting conditions. He has a policy. Republican columnist Ross Douthat, in the Times, bemoans the lack of policy from Republicans. From that column:

But Republicans are also losing because today’s economic landscape is very different than in the days of Ronald Reagan’s landslides. The problems that middle-class Americans faced in the late 1970s are not the problems of today. Health care now takes a bigger bite than income taxes out of many paychecks. Wage stagnation is a bigger threat to blue-collar workers than inflation. Middle-income parents worry more about the cost of college than the crime rate. Americans are more likely to fret about Washington’s coziness with big business than about big government alone.

Both shifts, demographic and economic, must be addressed if Republicans are to find a way back to the majority. But the temptation for the party’s elites will be to fasten on the demographic explanation, because playing identity politics seems far less painful than overhauling the Republican economic message.

Later in the column Douthat references James Capretta as having some real conservative ideas about health care. Lets look at a piece of a column from Capretta and Robert Moffit on replacing Obama Care, which they favor doing.

The “repeal and replace” formulation quickly caught on, but it was not without its critics. That Obamacare should be “repealed” was obvious, given how strenuously conservatives and many independents objected to the new law. But “replace”? Hammering out the details of a new health-care law might easily stir controversy and sow discord, thereby undermining the push for “repeal.”

This concern is not unfounded. But repeal will not be enough, for a simple reason: Although Obamacare would worsen many of the problems with our system of health-care financing, that system clearly does call out for serious reform. Despite the widespread public antipathy toward the new health-care law, simply reverting to the pre-Obamacare status quo would be viewed by many Americans, perhaps even most, as unacceptable. After all, a repeal-only approach would leave many of the most grievous flaws in our system of financing health care unaddressed. Chief among them would be steadily rising health-care costs, driven by the same misguided government policies that so evidently demand reform.

The Romney approach was truly repeal only. That decision by Romney was of course driven by political considerations, as even Capretta acknowledges the political problems inherent in providing details, which could sow discord, and thereby hurt any repeal effort. Sort of like Obamacare, which tried to address a glaring problem, and cost the President politically by sowing that “discord and controversy”. Want to do something besides just “be the President”. Then you need to make some policy choices that attempt to address problems, rather than simply spouting inanities about sending heart attack victims to emergency rooms. The Romney campaign was hollow to its core, and the public came to realize it. Until there are real policy proposals from the Republican Party that actually address problems facing everyday Americans they can expect more of the same. Douthat has it right. Republican subservience to their donor class, (and their entertainment complex)will doom them to further and larger electoral defeats.

The bad news is that unlike a pander on immigration, a new economic agenda probably wouldn’t be favorably received by the party’s big donors, who tend to be quite happy with the Republican Party’s current positioning.

But after spending billions of those donors’ dollars with nothing to show for it, perhaps Republicans should seek a different path: one in which they raise a little less money but win a few more votes.

Tom Coburn, on Meet the Press, talked about the lack of a positive message from Republicans. Republican Coburn said on MTP, “We didn’t say what we were for”. Health care is but one example of that.

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