Eric Cantor Has a New Imaginary Health-Care Plan

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

Why would Republicans draft any health care plan at all? That's Kevin Drum's question upon hearing news that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is purportedly writing a "replace" bill to finally fill in the three-year-old big blank in the Republican "repeal and replace" agenda on health care reform.

First, read Jonathan Chait's explanation of the "Heritage Uncertainty Principle" - that "Republican health-care proposals reside in a state of quasi-existence, and any attempt to summon them into political reality will cause them to disappear."

Chait's snark is not exactly unjustified. Look, these are House Republicans. The people who swore up and down that they would draft a "replace" bill back in 2011. Then swore up and down that they would pass a tax reform bill last year. Then swore up and down that they would forge their own path on immigration.

None of that ever happened. Almost none of it ever made it even to the written legislation stage, let alone to the casting of votes on the House floor.

All of which makes the point that House Republicans have engineered a process of perpetually producing proposals that never quite get to the point of being born.

Look, I'm not of the school that says politicians "can't" say something just because it's illogical nonsense. So just because Republicans say they are dedicated to repealing a law responsible for making health insurance accessible to millions of people, Republican candidates needn't acknowledge that their plans would reverse that reality -- leaving millions uninsured and causing chaos in the insurance market. Parties are responsible for providing talking points to their candidates, and this is a perfectly useful way to do it. What about pre-existing conditions? Cantor's bill will take care of that. Keeping young Americans on their parents' plans? We'll have that in Cantor's bill. Any other problem that comes up? Oh, we're going to solve that one in Cantor's bill.

Now, that's all ruined if you actually go ahead and publish a plan (or even worse, because it invites more specific language, if you draft and introduce a bill). Do that, and everyone learns that some promised fixes won't work, or entail painful costs.

Some of this seems like perfectly healthy out-party behavior to me. Much of it, however, is unhealthy. If a party really cares about progress on some issue, it should be writing real legislation and engaging in real bargaining for real substantive gains. If phantom bills and other communications strategies proliferate in too many areas, that's a good sign something is wrong with the party. Which, in my view, is the condition of today's Republicans.

And as for Cantor's bill? I'll believe it's real when they put it in writing.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View. He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012." Follow him on Twitter at @JBPlainblog.)

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at