Depressing debate

DEPRESSING DEBATE…. As advertised, the Senate Finance Committee has spent the morning and early afternoon debating heath care reform, and for the first time, getting into the details of a public option. The problem isn’t that the debate is going poorly — it’s long been expected that the provision would fall short at this stage — it’s that the arguments against the public option have been ridiculous.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has been repeating Lewin Group data that was debunked months ago. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has argued that socialized medicine costs less, which is a bad thing. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ken.) called a public option a “major step toward universal health care coverage.” He meant it as criticism.

This is not the debate you want to watch if you’re looking to be inspired by the grandeur of the American political system in action.

But Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) was especially interesting when he said the status quo in the United States does quite well on medical treatment, as compared to other countries, just so long as we don’t count those injured by guns or car accidents.

“Are you aware that if you take out gun accidents and auto accidents, that the United States actually is better than those other countries?” Ensign said. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) had been citing the health care systems of France, Germany, Japan and Canada as more effective, but with lower costs.

Conrad responded that one can bend statistics in all sorts of ways.

“But that doesn’t have anything to do with health care. Auto accidents don’t have anything to do with h–,” Ensign said, cutting himself off. “I mean we’re just a much more mobile society. … We drive our cars a lot more, they do public transportation. So you have to compare health care system with health care system.”

A few thoughts here. First, Ensign seemed to be making the case for gun control and expanded investment in public transportation. He actually opposes both.

Second, Ensign also said the U.S. does better than European countries on cancer survival rates. That’s not true.

And third, unless Ensign has a plan to eliminate shootings and car accidents, I’m not sure what he hopes to prove with his observation.

Update: And fourth, in case it wasn’t clear, Ensign’s wrong on the substance. As Matt Yglesias noted, “What Ensign is saying here — that gun accidents and car accidents fully account for the life expectancy gap between the US and other countries — isn’t true.”