The GOP’s Idea of Health Care Eye Candy

I’ve already written a lot more than most non-specialist bloggers about the stunt Eric Cantor tried to pull yesterday on health care. But now that it’s blown up in his face and political circles are generally taking notice, there’s one aspect of this fiasco I’d like to underline. Check out this passage from Paul Kane’s WaPo story on the bill:

The measure is part of Cantor’s effort to rebrand the GOP after defeats in the 2012 presidential and Senate elections, but it quickly found resistance among conservative activists.

The Club for Growth led a contingent of right-leaning groups that urged Republican lawmakers to oppose the bill, casting it as a costly boondoggle that would do nothing to dismantle the health-care law.

“Fiscal conservatives should be squarely focused on repealing Obamacare, not strengthening it by supporting the parts that are politically attractive,” Andy Roth, a vice president of Club for Growth, wrote to lawmakers last week. Heritage Action, the political arm of the the conservative Heritage Foundation, joined in the opposition.

The high-risk pool that the GOP was trying to make permament, was, to the Club for Growth, “politically attractive” but still contrary to conservative principles and to the best strategy for destroying the whole socialistic idea that government has any business helping people get health insurance.

“Politically attractive?” An insurance ghetto for sick people that enables them to buy bad insurance at high costs? Really? No, not really. You want to know what’s “politically attractive?” Obamacare’s flat ban on allowing insurance companies deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, to which, of course, the high-risk pool Republicans are trying to prop up is intended to serve as a very temporary bridge.

So why did Cantor and company choose this complicated and rickety substitute for a wildly popular policy as its idea of health care eye candy? I’m not a clinical psychologist, but you’d have to guess they are so used to tossing it out there as a “solution” to the problem of pre-existing condition exclusions–sort of like they routinely offer the disastrous idea of interstate insurance sales as a “solution” to the problem of rising insurance costs–that they automatically went there once the broader concept of standing for “real life solutions” became Eric Cantor’s distinctive contribution to the “rebranding” project.

In other words, these guys seem to have started believing their own hype, or alternatively, believing others would believe it when offered not as a minor undiscussed detail of a great big Alternative Agenda on Health Care, but as a stand-alone policy initiative. And if we can credit reports Cantor hasn’t given up on the “Helping Sick Americans Now” bill, it seems the GOP leadership thinks the only problem is talking conservatives out of opposing it on grounds that even crappy, insincere and unworkable “assistance” for the uninsured is too just much.

You can judge for yourselves how many other elements of the “rebranding” project are similarly building blocks for a Potemkin Village of phony compassion. But the intra-GOP debate won’t be over how to make them real, but whether it’s a betrayal of conservative principle even to try.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.