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Unsportsmanlike conduct on health care policy

Unsportsmanlike conduct on health care policy
Unsportsmanlike conduct on health care policy

We talked yesterday about Senate Republican leaders contacting the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA, and NASCAR, urging them not to partner with Washington on informing the public about health care benefits Americans are legally entitled to. The point is simple: the Republican senators still hope to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, and if people don't participate in the system because they're unfamiliar with what's available, "Obamacare" could fail.

Following up, Jonathan Cohn raised a good point about the larger context.

As you have read in a few places, perhaps even here, the federal government is starting a public education campaign about Obamacare -- not to promote the law, mind you, but simply to inform the public about the new insurance options that will be available once the law takes full effect. In 2005, the Bush Administration ran a similar campaign to let seniors know about the Medicare drug benefit. A year later, Massachusetts officials launched their own effort to educate residents about insurance options that the state's new health law was making available. In that campaign, Massachusetts authorities famously enlisted the Boston Red Sox as partners.

This latter point, about "Romneycare" in Massachusetts, offers a perfect parallel. When a Republican governor created a system practically identical to President Obama's health care model, he needed to get the word out so residents of the Bay State would sign up. It made sense to partner with the Red Sox, and it worked beautifully -- the team played "a central role" in getting the word out to the public.

Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn are likely aware of this, and desperately hope to avoid similar circumstances. As a result, they're using their power to pressure sports leagues to help keep Americans in the dark, even if that means (especially if that means) undercutting federal law and families going without benefits to which they're entitled.

But the 2005 campaign with the Bush/Cheney administration's Medicare Part D offers another important reminder from the recent past -- Democrats didn't like anything about this legislation, but they didn't try to sabotage the American system after it passed.

When Medicare Part D was considered in Congress, the Bush White House lied about its cost, while Republicans used ugly tactics to force through legislation that gave unnecessary funds to insurance companies. For Dems, the bill was a disaster -- it'd be easier, more efficient, and more cost effective, they said, to cover prescription drug costs through the public program, rather than relying on private insurers. Making matters worse, the GOP demanded that literally every penny of the cost of the program be added to the deficit -- Bush didn't want any of it paid for at all.

But Republicans were in the majority and had the White House, so Democrats lost the fight.

But note what Norm Ornstein told Cohn about what happened next:

Democrats were furious with how the Medicare prescription drug bill passed. But once it was law, they weren't going to punish needy seniors to sabotage Bush's accomplishment. It is remarkable to use threats of congressional power to intimidate sports organizations so that people who need insurance or need help knowing what is available to them will suffer by being kept in the dark. Stick it to millions so you can stick it to the president? That is statesmanship? No, it is cruel and outrageous.

The point here isn't to jump up and down, yelling, "Republicans stink." Rather, the point is to appreciate the extent to which the parties play by different rules, even when millions of Americans' access to basic health care is on the line.