Remember back in the early 1990's, when the Republican Party decided that the best way to stop Bill Clinton's Democratic agenda was to block his health care initiative at all costs?
It worked, to some extent. The Republicans gained control of the House, and Newt Gingrich and Clinton actually got a few things done once the government was once again open for business. (Then came Monica, which is another subject for another time.)
All right. We fast forward to Barack Obama's election. Things have gotten even more partisan in the ensuing years. Obama is coming off an election in which he has added millions of young people to the voting roles and run a campaign that was the proverbial well-oiled machine. A second term figured to be difficult to stop.
So the Republicans went back to the old playbook. Stop the President. Since Obama had run on a campaign of finally bringing health care reform to the country, it was clearly time for a re-run. (Check out this blog from Glenn Locke on a fundraising call a while back.) After all, most people are happy with their health care plans on a personal level, so why not appeal to their more selfish instincts?
The legislative process dragged on and on, in part for that reason. It looked as if the Obama package would die when Scott Brown was elected to the Senate in Massachusetts, but some smooth procedural moves by Democrats made it a surrmountable obstacle. So, what do you do if your position seems headed for failure?
You raise the stakes, and that's what Republican commentators and legislators seemed to do in the last couple of weeks. This wasn't just a health care reform package, this was the end of freedom and liberty as we know it. The rhetoric was way over the top and almost silly. You expect that stuff out of Glenn Beck, who was called "insane" by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. You don't expect that stuff out of legislators, some of whome spoke during Sunday's debate. Congressman John Boehmer was particularly wound up as a show-closer. Texas Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer admitted that he yelled "baby killer" during a speech by Rep. Bart Stupak, who agreed to vote for the package after a deal over abortion language.
It's been funny to listen to the media reports. After the vote Sunday night, MSNBC acted like it was V-E Day while Fox News staffers looked ready to burst into tears. On radio on Monday, Rush Limbaugh said freedom was hanging by a string, and that this was not the type of change that Obama was elected to install (of course, this is EXACTLY the type of change that was promised). Meanwhile, host Ed Schultz and guest Jesse Jackson were verbally patting each other on the back.
So where, then, is the sensible center?
No one knows for sure how the package will shake out when everyone is done with amendments, and how insurance companies will react to it. My guess is that some reforms will be made, and conditions in certain areas will get better. Some of the people who show up on the doors of emergency rooms looking for treatment, people that we subsidize now because no one can be turned away, will be covered by insurance and be covered more efficiently (which is where some of the deficit savings come in).
I also expect a little more money to come out of my pocket somehow. It may be through taxes and it may be through a rise in premiums. Then again, prices have been doing up well above the inflation rate for years. We can't do much worse than we have been doing in that sense.
The rules are going to be a little different in the months and years ahead. Some people will win a little, some people will lose a little.
Life will go on. Despite what you are hearing.