During the summer of 2009, in the early stages of the health care debate, a frustrated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., lamented that he wasn’t getting any cooperation from Republicans.
“On something as important as health care, you would think people would be interested in working together,” Reid grumbled. “Republicans aren’t interested in working with Democrats. That’s pretty clear. ... The Party of No is hoping that we trip and fall.”
This “Party of No” rhetoric was parroted by nearly every liberal writer. It is less common today, now that the tables have turned. The new Republican House majority has passed a serious proposal to reform the broken entitlement system and avert national insolvency. Not only has Reid refused to work with the GOP on a budget, but he said it would be “foolish” for Democrats to release one of their own. And Wednesday, Senate Democrats gave new meaning to the label “Party of No” when they held a series of four budget votes. Not a single Democrat voted for any budget proposal, including Obama’s own plan, which was rejected by a unanimous 97-0 vote.
Democrats have settled on a political strategy of isolating and attacking the Ryan plan instead of offering constructive solutions that could leave them open to attack. If history is any guide, this is a winning election strategy. But it is not necessarily responsible governance. The nation faces an unprecedented debt crisis that makes the problems in the health care system pale in comparison. President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton at least rhetorically acknowledge that the current and projected federal deficits are unsustainable.
As tempting as it is for Republicans to blast Democrats’ inaction, they would do much better to go on offense and attack the bad ideas Democrats have already embraced. Obama’s ill-defined plan for reforming Medicare is to strengthen the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a 15-member rationing panel created by Obamacare, so that it can skimp on care for more than 43 million Medicare beneficiaries. Fifty current Democratic senators already endorsed this rationing panel. If the choice is framed as a debate between change versus the status quo in Medicare, then Democrats have the advantage. If the choice is framed more honestly — as between Republican Paul Ryan’s plan on the one hand, and the rationing panel on the other — then the playing field will be far more level.