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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Health Reform Repeal Not Just “Waste of Time”

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic is right on the mark in a post mocking the standard congressional Democratic response to the impending “symbolic” vote on repealing last years health reform legislation. The heart of the Democratic talking points appears to be the complaint that this vote is a “waste of time” that distracts attention from the economy.
It should be obvious that this line of attack represents an implicit concession that critics were right last year when they said Democrats should shelve health reform (and for that matter, climate change legislation and DADT repeal) until the economy revives–i.e., that the federal government cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Since it’s probably going to be a good while before we are back to the levels of unemployment we had in, say, the late 1990s, if they ever return, the party of activist government should probably be wary of such arguments.
Moreover, as Chait points out, the “waste of time” claim may be displacing a much stronger set of arguments focused on the rather important fact that many components of health reform are popular:

Republicans are voting to open up the donut hole for Medicare recipients and charge them higher rates, allow insurance companies to turn away anybody whose family has a preexisting condition, and all sorts of awful things.
There’s a reason Republicans robotically insisted during the health care debate that they wanted to “start over” when their real position was to do nothing. It’s because doing nothing was wildly unpopular. Now they’re voting for the wildly unpopular do nothing plan, stripping away the pretense of having an alternative. Why not make them pay? Disingenuous whining about how we should be focused on jobs is not the way to do that.

Couldn’t agree more. Prospects for resisting the current wave of Republican policies depend very much on exposing their actual nature and consequences. This is one time and subject on which Democrats should welcome as substantive a debate as is possible.

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