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Republicans oppose Democrats, not health-care reform

By Ezra Klein,

I think I’m pretty cynical about the way American politicians approach policy questions, and so there’s little I love more than an opportunity to argue against excessive cynicism. So thank you, Jonathan Bernstein:

I think opposition to any sort of government-initiated universal health care is the most natural movement conservative position. Yes, conservative politicians (not just Mitt!) have in the past supported things that looked like Obama’s health care plan, but I think in almost all cases that was just about playing defense in a situation in which the true movement conservative position (that is, it’s not the government’s concern) is wildly unpopular.

I disagree. I think health-care policy is not a priority for most Republicans, so when they’re in office, it’s not the thing they naturally choose to spend political capital on. But that doesn’t mean that, all else being equal, they wouldn’t be glad to pass one of their policies on the subject and say they were the folks who solved the country’s health-care problem. You saw that impulse in Mitt Romney, in George W. Bush’s campaign to pass the Medicare prescription drug benefit (though that had a lot to do with winning Florida in 2004), in Bob Bennett’s decision to co-sponsor a comprehensive reform bill alongside Ron Wyden.

The problem is, the thing that really is a priority for most Republicans is defeating Democratic presidents. And Democratic presidents often attempt health-care reform, because they care about it a lot, and they often appropriate Republican ideas, because they overestimate how much Republicans are interested in health-care policy and underestimate how much Republicans really want to make them fail. And then the policy they’re pushing becomes their policy, not a policy the Republicans originally offered up, and the process of polarization begins.

I believe as strongly now as I did a year ago that President Mitt Romney or President John McCain could’ve offered a bill quite similar to the Affordable Care Act and gotten a lot more than zero Senate Republicans to vote for it, though I think it’s an open question whether they would’ve bothered to do anything about health-care reform at all. But I don’t think Republicans have strong and consistent views against health-care reform. I think they have strong and consistent views against Democratic presidents.

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