March 24 (Bloomberg) -- Democrats won their health-care victory ugly, after a yearlong, fractious, uninspiring process filled with rancid deals and worse compromises, redeemed only by the moment when they actually delivered reform to the country.
Republicans lost even uglier, not so much in opposition as in sullen, lockstep refusal to consider any reforms, even ones they were previously for, like cutting waste and fraud from Medicare.
Which would you rather brandish at a town hall meeting? A vote to contain the insurance companies, or a vote to let them have their way?
The fixes that will take effect before the midterm election include bans on excluding children from coverage because of preexisting conditions and on canceling policies when someone gets sick. Dependents will be permitted to stay on a policy until they’re 26. A favorite Republican constituency, small businesses, gets help purchasing insurance for their employees. Seniors get $250 toward closing a loophole in their Medicare prescription-drug coverage.
After voters have their say in November, Republicans may look back on all the dire warnings they issued about certain defeat and realize they were talking about themselves.
Obama should reserve one thank-you note for WellPoint Inc., which imposed a 39 percent rate increase on some policyholders in California. Until then, the focus had been on Republican predictions that the world would come to an end if Obamacare passed, not on the immediate hell should insurers continue on their merry way.
As late as the Sunday morning television talk shows, hours before the showdown vote in the House, Republicans claimed they would prevail because of dug-in pro-lifers in the House.
What helped end that standoff were 59,000 nuns who came out in favor of reform, blunting the opposition of bishops just as the sexual-abuse scandal centered on the church’s male hierarchy returned to the news. Democrat Bart Stupak, who’d anointed himself king of the pro-life caucus by warning the new health-care system would subsidize abortions, sniffed dismissively at the sisters, saying he sometimes confers with bishops but doesn’t “call up the nuns” when he’s drafting legislative language.
At the very last minute, Stupak agreed to accept an executive order stating the status quo, a face-saving solution to his imagined problem.
Not for Kids
The debate over health care has left the body politic in critical condition. Congress has suffered such a steep decline in behavior that parents might want to leave their young ones at home to watch “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” rather than take a spring pilgrimage to the nation’s capital.
Decorum has only gone downhill since Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled “You lie” during the president’s address to Congress last September. It hit bottom with Republican Representative Randy Neugebauer of Texas shouting “baby killer” when Stupak spoke on the House floor.
At the Capitol, Republicans egged on militant crowds by waving “Kill the Bill” signs from a balcony. Thus inspired, some protesters spat on a black lawmaker and shouted a slur at a gay one.
Republicans are doubling down on their anger, vowing to challenge the legislative reconciliation process tooth and nail -- although their first challenge failed on Monday.
Burned at Stake
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele accused the Congressional Budget Office of lying because its evaluation of the bill’s costs didn’t support his party’s line. Now the RNC is raising money through a Web site, www.firenancypelosi.com, that shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi engulfed by flames like Joan of Arc burning at the stake.
Wilder than usual, conservative blogs and talk radio are comparing the bill to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, a proximate cause of the Civil War.
As for the most recent Republican standard-bearer, Senator John McCain told an Arizona radio station there’d be “no cooperation for the rest of the year.” After White House adviser David Axelrod called that attitude “OK on the sandlot,” McCain’s spokeswoman shot back, “that’s what strong, independent members do -- you’d know that if you had ever worked for one.”
Anger gives McCain a cover for dropping his effort at immigration reform, a cause that’s no longer helpful now that he’s got a primary challenge from the right. McCain is following the command of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told his members to agree with nothing Obama proposed, even if they liked it.
Blinded by Anger
That stance blinded Republicans to the fact that Obama long ago ruled out the single-payer system loved by many liberals in favor of working through the existing private insurance system. Republicans could have chosen to play a role in it.
If and when they have to govern again, sane Republicans will find there’s a cost to being pulled down to the level of the haters, since it undermines the ability to lead.
The Harris Poll today releases the results of an online survey of 2,320 Americans as the health-care battle raged. As John Avlon reported yesterday on the Daily Beast Web site, it found that 67 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a socialist -- and that’s one of the more benign results.
Some 38 percent of Republicans say that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did.” A stunning 24 percent say that Obama “may be the Antichrist.”
Maybe they will see they’ve gone too far. I can’t picture John Boehner campaigning against an Antichrist who gave Grandma a $250 rebate or let junior remain on his parents’ insurance policy until he finds a job. I bet Republicans leave the repeal drive to Rush Limbaugh, newly ensconced in Costa Rica -- where, to his dismay, he’ll find there’s universal health care.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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