Conservatives Now Calling For ‘Incremental’ Approach To Health Care Reform

stopsign-785307Earlier this summer, guided by pollsters who argued that conservatives can’t oppose the idea of health care reform, Republicans proposed at least five comprehensive alternatives to the Democratic legislation. But now, in the context of the August town halls, conservatives are openly arguing that the nation does not need or cannot afford comprehensive health care reform.

Conservatives want to abandon the effort to reform the system this year. Instead, they’re proposing “incremental” reforms:

– Sen. John Thune (R-SD): And I think the — there are Republicans who would vote for reforms, insurance reforms and, you know, I think elements that would demonstrate more incremental change that actually do bend the cost curve down, as opposed to driving it up. [Conference call, 8/25/2009]

– Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WI): We do need to have health care reform,” Enzi said. “We do need to get it right. We need take the time to do it. I think the only way it will happen is we need to break it down into smaller parts than we have now and put it through one at a time. [Billings Gazette, 8/17/2009]

– Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA): If we start over again, you know, it’ll probably be more incremental, probably less controversial and maybe get done, but it still will take time to do that. [Conference call, 8/13/2009]

– Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT): There’s no reason we have to do it all now, but we do have to get started. [CNN, 8/23/2009]

– Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN): I would advise the president that the — bringing up of the health care situation in the midst of recession…And therefore he ought to postpone the decision…For the moment, let’s clear the deck and try it again next year or in subsequent times. [CNN, 8/23/2009]

Yesterday’s revised deficit projections have given conservatives an additional argument for paring down existing legislation. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) issued a statement arguing that the higher projections were “a flashing red light for any health care proposal that doesn’t reduce the cost of health care for Americans and their government,” and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, declared that “if the House Democrats’ unaffordable $1 trillion health care bill wasn’t dead before, it should be now.”

A smaller health reform package would do little to reduce health care costs and increase access to affordable health care coverage. In fact, health care costs are the long-term driving force in federal and state budgets and represent the single most important factor “influencing the Federal Government’s long-term fiscal balance.” Health care reform that begins to lower the curve of health care spending is “the single most important step we can take to put the Nation on firm fiscal footing.” Scaling down legislation, would not only fail to address the long term cost challenge, it “basically means gutting the benefits that would go to the working and middle class,” the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn points out. “In other words,” Cohn says, “it would help fulfill the fear many of these voters already have and that opponents of reform have tried hard to stoke: That reform doesn’t have much to offer the typical middle-income American.” As the late Ted Kennedy observed in a recent article for Newsweek, “Incremental measures won’t suffice anymore. We need to succeed where Teddy Roosevelt and all others since have failed. The conditions now are better than ever.”