Robert Reich Is Having Deja Vu, Too

Tue, 01 Sep 2009 16:21:34 +0000

But he doesn't quite realize it. In his latest post (h/t Mark Thoma), he laments the way Democrat "ideas" couldn't persevere against the onslaught of Republican "discipline." Change a few details, and he's talking about failed Social Security reform in 2005:

I say the Democrats' "idea" but in fact there was no single idea. Obama never sent any detailed plan to Congress. Meanwhile, congressional Dems were so creative and undisciplined before the August recess they came up with a kaleidoscope of health-care plans. The resulting incoherence served as an open invitation to the Republican right to focus with great precision on convincing the public of their own demonic version of what the Democrats were up to -- that it would take away their Medicare, require "death panels," raise their taxes, and lead to a government takeover of medicine, and so on. The Obama White House -- a veritable idea factory brimming with ingenuity -- thereafter proved unable to come up with a single, convincing narrative to counteract this right-wing hokum. Whatever discipline Obama had mustered during the campaign somehow disappeared.

Being "coherent" enough to overcome "hokum" ought to be the minimum standard for legislation on this scale. <!--break-->Like it or not, if you want to use the tools of a democratic government to reorganize markets for health care, you need more than an idea factory and staged townhall meetings. You need some discipline yourself. And we're not talking about Ironman triathlon level discipline. We're only talking about government level discipline: white papers, Congressional hearings, and, critically, a forum in which the ideas in the bills that are moving through Congress are shown to be better ideas than the alternatives. We haven't seen that at all. In particular, show me why the bills moving through Congress, with all of their attendant costs, are better than a simple reform consisting only of:

  1. Community rating
  2. Guaranteed issue
  3. Ex post risk adjustment
  4. An individual mandate, with Medicaid for a fee as the backup option

And spare me the whining about how the Republicans don't have a better plan. They don't have the White House. They don't have the Senate. They don't have the House. They don't have to have a better argument than the claim that the Democrats' plan isn't better than the status quo. It's not as if the Democrats shot down Social Security in 2005 and have now done something better.