Winning the battle, but losing the war

One of my greatest frustrations during health care reform was the fact that, while conservative health care reform plans existed, none were seriously offered by prominent politicians. Yes, one or another was bandied about in wonky circles, but none were seriously put forward as the answer to the PPACA. Even the eventual calls for repeal and replace lacked much detail on the “replace” part.

It’s not that I can’t understand why things went this way. Politically, it’s much easier to play defense than offense. If you want to increase access, as many on one side want to do, then it’s going to cost money. If you want to reduce costs, as many on the other side want to do, then it’s going to reduce access or decrease quality. Proposing what you want means opening yourself to attack. That’s why it’s hard to do, and why it doesn’t happen often.

But, let’s face it. Opponents of health care reform could just keep attacking and attacking, and watch the bill, and law, become more and more unpopular. If your goal was partisan in nature, then this was absolutely the way to go.

My problem with that was that I couldn’t care less about the political win; I wanted a policy win. I wanted a better health care system. I firmly believed that honest debate and compromise could get us there. But if one side would offer a solution and then be decimated for doing so, we’d get nowhere.

That’ why I have to agree with Andrew Sullivan once again. I may not agree with all the aspects of Rep. Ryan’s proposed budget. But I respect the fact that he’s put himself on the line and exposed himself to political harm. There will likely be no end of ads and campaigns attacking him for his ideas; some of those lines of attack may even have merit. But that’s always the way it is.

One side thinks that spending is too high, and they want to reduce it. Of course, when you reduce spending, you cut programs – many of which are popular. The other side thinks that revenue is too low, and wants to increase it. But raising taxes, even if it means returning to rates from the recent past, can be just as unpopular as spending cuts. Proposing what you want means opening yourself to attack. That’s why it’s hard to do, and why it doesn’t happen often.

But, once again, I don’t care about the political win; I want a policy win. I want a better economy and a more stable long term outlook, and that’s not sustainable with out current revenue and spending. Rep. Ryan may be in the majority in the House, but Democrats still control most of the government. It may be politically savvy to attack, but it will be in the best long term interests of out country if those who disagree with Rep. Ryan go one step further. They should answer his ideas with their own. If they hold merit, then a real debate can take place, and America can decide how best to improve our long term deficit.

If, however, opponents take the opportunity merely to attack and demonize without countering with their own plans, then we will lose a valuable chance to use debate and compromise to achieve an optimal solution. Some believe that the Republicans passed up such an opportunity with health care reform. Let’s hope the Democrats don’t make the same mistake. They may win a political battle, but America could lose the policy war.

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