The Dems’ Wasted Opportunity on Health Reform

Republicans have placed their assault on health care reform at the top of their agenda for the new Congress, planning to put a repeal of the federal law up for a vote as soon as possible. Full-out repeal is unlikely to go anywhere: even if the bill passed the House, it would have trouble clearing the Senate, and President Obama could always veto it in the end. But the GOP hopes the vote will give Republicans the momentum to undermine support for the law on the state level, gut smaller provisions, and pave the way for killing reform under a Republican administration.

That being said, the GOP attack also gives Democrats a second chance to sell health reform to the public, as I’ve previously explained earlier. The New York Times lays out the Democrats’ vow to launch an “all-out effort” to defend the law, aided by outside groups who fought for the bill’s passage. But Democrats have been promising to make a full-court press on health reform for months, and the party still has yet to follow through. This week, for example, would have been a prime opportunity for health reform’s defenders to step up. Some of the most popular early provisions of the law went into effect on January 1: any co-pays on preventative care are prohibited; health insurers must spend a higher percentage of the cost of premiums on actual medical care; and some Medicare beneficiaries will receive a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs.

But you aren’t hearing many Democrats explaining how Republicans are determined to take such benefits away from the American public. Rather, as Jonathan Chait points out, leading Democratic voices like Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) are only complaining that Republicans are wasting time with their repeal effort. There’s no way of avoiding the health care debate at this point, and simply dismissing the Republicans’ sturm und drang just allows the GOP to continue dominating the conversation.