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GOP senator on health care: "It depends on how you define 'better'"

Asked if his party's bill bettered the state of health care, a Republican senator replied, "It depends on how you define 'better.'" Well, yes, it does.
Bill Cassidy
Senate candidate, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., speaks at a campaign stop at VFW Post 5951in Bossier City, La., Oct. 13, 2014

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) told reporters that his party's health care plan is "much better than Obamacare." Asked why, the Georgia Republican wasn't sure. "I've got to read it first," Perdue replied*.

Oh. So the senator hadn't read the GOP plan, but he's nevertheless certain that it's not only an improvement on the status quo, but it's "much better" than the Affordable Care Act.

This almost certainly captures the attitude most Senate Republican will adopt, probably without a whole lot of effort. They know they're supposed to hate the ACA; they know their party has a far-right alternative; and so they know how they're going to have to vote next week.

But when it comes to the between the Affordable Care Act and the GOP alternative, I think this is a better answer.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) expressed his support for the Senate Republicans' Obamacare repeal bill Friday, although he told the hosts of "Fox & Friends" that he had yet to commit to voting for it.Asked if the bill bettered the state of health care, Cassidy replied: "It depends on how you define 'better.'"

Well, yes, I suppose it does.

Would the Republican plan cover more Americans than Obamacare? Actually, no, it would cover far fewer, and the uninsured rate, currently at its lowest point on record, would increase if the GOP legislation is implemented.

Would the Republican plan lower costs for American consumers as compared to Obamacare? Actually, no, it would do the opposite, increasing costs by design.

Would the Republican plan offer better coverage than Obamacare? Actually, no, it would offer worse coverage through weaker plans.

The GOP's alternative does excel, however, in satisfying partisan and ideological goals. In Cassidy's Fox News interview, for example, co-host Steve Doocy said the Republican bill "eliminates the individual and employee mandate," and people will "love" such a change. That may be true in many cases, but it's not an especially substantive observation. After all, Americans won't have better health security because of the elimination of various mandates.

It's also true that many wealthy people and industries within the health care system would get a sizable tax cut, and that too may be popular in some circles, but it's not a credible metric for evaluating the merits of a health care policy blueprint.

And that's where the Republican plan runs into quite a bit trouble. In a head-to-head comparison with the Affordable Care Act, to determine which is "better," Republicans and their allies are reliant on talking points that effectively change the subject: the GOP plan shrinks government, lowers taxes, guts consumer protections, and redistributes wealth from the bottom up, and for the right those are ostensibly its selling points, since conservatives are ideologically predisposed to oppose government, taxes, regulations, and wealth redistribution from top down.

But for the American mainstream, which isn't overly concerned with scratching a conservative ideological itch, the comparison between the Republican bill and the ACA shouldn't be a tough call.

* Update: I talked to Sen. Perdue's office, which has a full statement available on the senator's position on the bill here, and which provided some additional context on the aforementioned quote.

A reporter asked the Georgia senator for his opinion on his party's proposal, and Perdue responded, "I haven't seen it yet. I'm going to go see it right now." Asked in a follow-up about the available details, he added, "It's much better than Obamacare. It's much better than any deal we'll negotiate a year from now or whatever so I'm encouraged. There's still some things I want to see modified. I'm not going to get into it right now."