The news Barrasso might have missed


The prospect of military intervention in Syria is clearly on the minds of many Americans, and a spirited debate is underway about the wisdom on target strikes. With this in mind, President Obama not surprisingly devoted his weekly address to help make the case for his policy.

He was immediately followed by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) who delivered the Republican Party’s weekly address on … how much the GOP hates the Affordable Care Act.

It was a little jarring. For one thing, the timing was bizarre – in the midst of an important debate over a national security crisis, the official Republican message of the week ignores the debate entirely? Of course, the GOP may not have had much of a choice, since the party doesn’t really have a foreign policy, per se, and is divided on U.S. policy in Syria.

For another, Barrasso’s message was detached from reality in ways that were hard to believe. The Wyoming senator proclaimed, “Many families are going to have real sticker shock when they see their new insurance rates – even families who get government subsidies.”

The argument came just 48 hours after we learned pretty much the opposite. Jonathan Cohn had a terrific item on this over the weekend, noting among other things that “Obamacare premiums appear lower than experts predicted.”

So why would Barrasso devote his party’s weekly address to pushing bogus rhetoric that had been debunked just days beforehand? Because of the larger context in which his remarks were delivered.

I’ve been writing quite a bit in recent months (and years, as longtime readers may recall) about the “wonk gap” between the left and right. Highlighting Barrasso’s errors, Paul Krugman picked up on the thesis in his new column.

…Mr. Barrasso is predicting sticker shock precisely when serious fears of such a shock are fading fast. Why would he do that? … [My guess] was that Mr. Barrasso was inadvertently illustrating the widening “wonk gap” – the G.O.P.’s near-complete lack of expertise on anything substantive. Health care is the most prominent example, but the dumbing down extends across the spectrum, from budget issues to national security to poll analysis. Remember, Mitt Romney and much of his party went into Election Day expecting victory.

About health reform: Mr. Barrasso was wrong about everything, even the “unpopular” bit, as I’ll explain in a minute. Mainly, however, he was completely missing the story on affordability.

You can check out Krugman’s piece for more details, but the bottom line remains the same. Barrasso was reading from a carefully prepared script, so he had time to get his facts straight before its delivery. What’s more, the Republican senator is supposed to be one of his party’s leading voices on this issue – he’s a Georgetown-trained surgeon by trade, and has taken a keen interest in the health care debate.

But note that when it comes time to engage in a substantive argument, Barrasso appears woefully unprepared.

Krugman concluded that thanks to the wonk gap, Barrasso and his allies “quite literally have no idea what they’re doing.”

Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, John Barrasso and Wonk Gap

The news Barrasso might have missed