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Health Care Reporting Misses Disagreements Over Core Values

Samuel Staley
August 20, 2009, 8:42am

The New York Times has a political report on the health-care debate that is notable for what it doesn't say. The focus on the lack of bipartisan (re: Republican) support for Congress's health care reform.

The reporting makes it seem like resistance from the Republicans is based on a crude political calculation, a them that plays well into the view of the Obama Administration. Note the quote from Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff:

"Top Democrats said Tuesday that their go-it-alone view was being shaped by what they saw as Republicans’ purposely strident tone against health care legislation during this month’s Congressional recess, as well as remarks by leading Republicans that current proposals were flawed beyond repair.

"Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the heated opposition was evidence that Republicans had made a political calculation to draw a line against any health care changes, the latest in a string of major administration proposals that Republicans have opposed.

“The Republican leadership,” Mr. Emanuel said, “has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.”

Rahm Emanuel had a reputation of being a ruthless partisan in Congress. Now, the press is framing him (and the Obama Administration) as the political pragmatist doing the bidding of the public on health care. Note the following comment from Robert Gibbs.

"In what Democrats regarded as further evidence that Republicans were not serious about negotiating, Mr. Kyl and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking House Republican, described a co-op as a public option carrying another name.

"The continuing opposition was noted Tuesday by Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, who said of Republicans that at best “only a handful seem interested in the type of comprehensive reform that so many people believe is necessary to ensure the principles and the goals that the president has laid out.”

The health care debate, however, is also about political values--who should be in control of your health care? Government? Insurance companies? Doctors? How about consumers?

The Obama Administration and Congressional leaders have the privilege of setting the agenda; they won in November. But the American public did not vote on the Obama version (or Republican version) of health-care reform in November. To characterize resistance to a health-care reform that would even further remove consumers from determining how, what, and where they can buy and use health-care services as a political calculation undermines the true values at stake in this debate. This is a debate over whether we move in a more market-oriented direction on a more government-centered direction.

It will be up to the Republicans to make that case, however, since the press will not.


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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