Consequence-free posturing

CONSEQUENCE-FREE POSTURING…. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John Barasso (Wyo.) held a press conference this morning to unveil their newest piece of legislation. After a month of waiting, might it be the first GOP bill related to job creation?

Of course not. It’s called the “State Health Care Choice Act,” and Barasso said its intended purpose it to put a “dagger into the heart of Obamacare.” Dave Weigel reports:

“We’re opening up a third front in the challenges against Obama health care,” said Graham. If the bill passed, “it would be easier for me to imagine more than half the states opting out of Obamacare. The bill would fall.” Graham got a follow-up question, asking whether opting out would shrink the risk pool. “You’ve hit the point. The goal is repeal and replace.” The goal was to bring the debate over health care into the 2012 campaign and into “the streets.”

I asked why this was necessary when states had the option — and were exercising it — to get waivers that allowed them to develop their own health care plans.

“That doesn’t give the states the options to opt out,” said Barasso. “All the criteria of Obamacare are there.” (These criteria include some of the aspects of the bill that are popular, of course, like the ban on discrimination against pre-existing conditions.)

As a substantive matter, the Graham/Barasso bill is obviously a bad joke, and a reminder of why it’s so difficult to take Republicans seriously on health care policy.

But as a political matter, they don’t care. Indeed, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced this morning that the GOP bill to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act could come to the floor as early as this week, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters this afternoon that all 47 members of the Republican caucus will vote for it.

These efforts are profoundly annoying on a variety of levels, but listening to the audio of the Graham/Barasso press conference, it occurred to me that we’re witnessing consequence-free posturing. I suspect there are plenty of Republican lawmakers who’d like to scrap various parts of the health care law, while keeping others, but they rant and rave all they want, knowing full well that their misguided bills don’t stand a chance.

And at a certain level, I find this more irksome than the bills themselves. Republicans realize that no matter what proposals they push, or speeches they give, or lies they tell, the only noticeable damage they’re doing is to the discourse and their elusive integrity. Real people — Americans families, their constituents — won’t actually suffer as a result of their posturing.

They have the luxury of scoring points and parading for the cameras, instead of, say, shaping actual legislation intended to help people.

The point generally goes unstated, but if Republicans were sincere — they’re not, but if they were — about their disgust for the individual mandate, they could call Harry Reid and the White House and propose a fix. The mandate is pretty important, but there are creative ways to make the law work without it, and if GOP members wanted to work on such an alternative, they could. Plenty of Dems would probably welcome this, and the provision Republicans claim to find so offensive would go away.

But the very idea that Republicans would consider such a move is a whimsical fantasy. For one thing, they want something to whine about, and removing the mandate would take away one of their favorite toys. For another, crafting an alternative solution would take actual work — and who wants to work on policy ideas when there are pointless games to be played and symbolic gestures to be pushed?

There was a point, not that long ago, at which many GOP officials actually wanted to try to address the problems in the health care system. Those officials are now gone, and what remains is a party that loves to tear down, rather than build up.

Repeal would have real-world consequences that would hurt millions of families. Seniors would pay more for prescription medication. Children with pre-existing conditions would lose their protections. Young adults would be kicked off their family’s plan. Small businesses would lose their tax breaks. Untold numbers of Americans would lose their homes, savings, businesses, and quite possibly their lives, simply because they got sick.

As of today, Republicans recognize these consequences, and claim to welcome them. They’ll come up with some other fix later, they say. Just let them gut the American health care system now, and they’ll get back to us eventually with some magical replacement.

What a waste.