What Now?

Okay – so we conservatives and independents have spanked Obama good and hard. Now what do we do?

Allow me to make a few of my own proposals.

First, let’s talk about transparency. I do think Obama was right about one thing in his press conference yesterday: the voters were rejecting the current culture in Washington. Most Americans hate the smokey back room dealing – not to mention the thousand-page, waste-laden bills that result from these invisible negotiations. If our new Republican majority wishes to win over independent voters in particular, they need to aggressively fight for a decrease in pork barrel spending (perhaps via a line-item veto amendment). Obama stated yesterday that he would like to see an end to earmarks; congressional Republicans should hold him to this.

Moreover, the new Congress should do what Obama and the Democrats failed to do: they should televise their negotiations and debates. If Republicans want to make Obama look like an idiot (a goal I certainly support), they should fulfill his C-SPAN promise. And when they encounter hostility in the mainstream media – and they will for sure – they should bypass the alphabets and the newspapers completely and go right to the people. They should visit their constituents often and hold regular town halls. They shouldn’t do what the Democrats did; they shouldn’t hide from the voters or belittle them. If there’s one thing Americans hate, it’s elitism.

Second, let’s talk about the economy. Republicans do need to push for tax relief, but that’s not a panacea. We also need to relax innovation-killing regulations. If an African-American woman in inner-city DC wants to make money styling her neighbors’ hair, she shouldn’t be slammed with penalties for the sin of not being a “licensed hair salon.” Some regulation is necessary, but it’s time we start making distinctions between those regulations that are obligatory and those that are merely onerous for small businesses. Of course we don’t want sweat shops filled with child laborers, but letting Moesha earn a living braiding hair certainly won’t cause the end of civilization as we know it.

Third, let’s talk about Obamacare. Obama refused to admit it, but the American public is pissed about that law — and that did drive them to vote Republican.

Admittedly, I find it hard to be wholly objective in this particular instance. As a patient with a pre-existing condition who currently has to pay extremely high premiums for a bottom-of-the-barrel plan, I’m inclined to agree that people in my position should receive some form of relief. I am not above self-interest, I’m afraid. That doesn’t mean, however, that I support the new health care law as it stands; indeed, I generally agree that we should just scrap the whole thing and start over.

However, it is unrealistic at this point to push for a repeal; Obama would never sign such a measure into law. What we need to do is break the bill down into its particulars and affirm or challenge each provision in turn. We also need to add some things that the Democrats “forgot”. Here are some of my specific suggestions:

  • We should protect people with pre-existing conditions somehow — but keep in mind that if we are going to demand that insurance companies cover people like me, we either need an individual mandate (whose constitutionality is dubious) or we need to limit enrollments to certain times of the year to discourage last minute plan shopping. Otherwise, people will sit around and wait until they get sick to get coverage, and our insurance pools will be too small. I like the second option better because, you know, I like the Constitution — and because I will always prefer incentives to force. If some people want to forgo health insurance, they should be allowed to do so — but they should also know that they may not be able to get onto a plan right away if they do eventually get sick.
  • Keep coverage mandates to a minimum. Birth control is an industry standard at this point, so we need to keep that, but we shouldn’t force insurance companies to cover visits to the chiropractor, nor should we mandate coverage of purely cosmetic procedures and items. Did you know, for example, that Massachusetts mandates the coverage of hair prostheses? I feel for all those cancer patients who lose their hair due to chemotherapy treatments, but I’m sorry – a wig mandate is completely unnecessary.
  • Allow patients to purchase plans from other states! Republicans need to repeatedly stress the benefits of genuine competition.
  • Tort reform! Prices are up in part because doctors have to pay sky-high malpractice insurance premiums to protect themselves from ambulance-chasing trial lawyers.
  • Give young, healthy customers the option to purchase cut-rate catastrophic insurance. That way, you can pull at least some of their money into the general pool. Forcing young folks to pay for a Cadillac plan will only drive them away entirely.
  • Remember that the House controls the government’s purse. Congressional Republicans should block funding of the health care law’s more objectionable measures — but, as I noted above, they should clearly explain why they are doing so. Go around the media if necessary and talk to the people directly.

I know the temptation is great to start with a big, dramatic gesture, but I think our best bet is to begin with the stand-next-to-it-and-smile issues listed above. We will be much more successful in our larger campaign to embarrass Obama (again, a campaign I whole-heartedly embrace) if we give him the chance to reject modest reforms that most of the populace likes.

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