GOP betting on health-care stall tactics

<em>RNC Head Michael Steele</em>
RNC Head Michael Steele

WASHINGTON– Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s speech Monday at the National Press Club was short on details. He said Republicans wanted to address “runaway costs” by perhaps posting the cost of treatments “openly on the Internet,” supporting “bold new incentives” for medical breakthroughs, and ending “life-time health care benefits and insurance for Congressmen who leave their jobs.”

Much of the speech had been telegraphed two weeks earlier in a poll conducted for the RNC and a corresponding memo from Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant who worked for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Castellanos argued Republicans could kill Democratic plans for health-care reform by dragging out the debate.

“If we slow this sausage-making process down, we can defeat it.” The “key message” for Republicans would be “We’ve got to ‘SLOW DOWN the OBAMA EXPERIMENT WITH OUR HEALTH’.”

In his Monday speech, Steele used the word “experiment” or some version of it no fewer than 30 times. In a new television ad airing in North Dakota, Nevada, and Arkansas — all states with at least one Democratic senator on the ballot in 2010 — the RNC casts health-care reform, again, as a “risky experiment.”

Steele’s performance was less a kick-off than an amplification of a year-long conservative campaign that is entering its final months without much remaining subtlety. Republicans are in the precarious position of arguing for a “pause button,” as Steele put it, in the ongoing negotiations over health care, while Democrats are aware that any pause or slow-down would effectively kill reform in the 111th Congress.

The Republican alternatives have no chance of passage; the Patients’ Choice Act sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for example, has six co-sponsors.

Republicans are now in the acrobatic position of throwing up roadblocks to kill health care reform in Washington while, in the states, attempting to convince vulnerable Democrats that successful health care reform would be a political boondoggle that could end their control of Congress.

In conversations with The Washington Independent, Republican strategists in the states targeted by the RNC’s new ads had some difficulty squaring the circle.

“We all saw what happened the last time there was a major push by a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress to mandate government-run health care,” said Robert Uithoven, a Republican strategist in Nevada.

While Uithoven acknowledged that the Democrats of 1994 stumbled by failing to pass any health care reform, he argued that success this year could be a problem, too.

“Harry Reid succeeding on this would be disastrous for the country. The more people learn about the cost, the more dangerous it is for Reid to succeed in this effort.”

Read the full story at The Washington Independent, The Colorado Independent’s sister site in D.C.

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