Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yes, Let's Talk About Those Republican Ideas - Kaiser Health News

by Jonathan Cohn, Senior Editor of The New Republic

The idea that Republicans haven’t had a chance to present their ideas on health care reform is a bit mind-boggling. Five separate congressional committees had hearings; each chamber had floor debates. That’s hundreds of hours the GOP had to talk about health care, all of it in public view and televised on C-SPAN. And that’s not even including all of the unofficial channels at the Republicans’ disposal. Generally speaking, the party of Rush Limbaugh and Fox Television doesn’t struggle to get across its message.

But if President Obama is determined to give Republicans one more public forum for presenting their health care agenda, as he will do when he meets with GOP leaders on Feb. 25, promised last week, maybe that is just as well. For most of last year, Republicans spent their time attacking Democratic plans for reform, rather than describing their own. But now they’ve put a plan on the table. Showcasing that plan--and comparing it to what the Democrats have proposed--might help clarify a few things.

The Republican health care plan is part of the "Roadmap for America's Future." Its chief architect is Paul Ryan, ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee and a rising star in the party. Republicans boast that the Roadmap is serious plan to get the federal budget under control, which turns out to be a fairly large exaggeration. As Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center has observed, the Roadmap doesn't account for trillions of dollars in lost revenue from its tax cuts. Yes, that's trillions with a "t" at the front and "s" at the back.

The health care portions of the plan, though, really would reduce what the government spends on health care. And they would do so, primarily, by extracting money from Medicare. Instead of continuing to provide coverage directly, the government would issue vouchers that seniors could use to buy private insurance. The value of the vouchers would rise far more slowly than Medicare spending is expected to grow if nothing changes.

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