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Why You Can't Discuss Health Care With The GOP

Most of the Republicans have relied upon scripted talking points and generalized denunciations of big government and a "government takeover." Numerous Democrats in the room have explained why it's not possible to ban insurance companies from discriminating against those with preexisting conditions without also covering everybody and subsidizing those who afford it. (Short answer: people would just game the system, going without insurance until they get sick.) Obama has spoken at enormous length today about why letting insurance companies sell policies across state lines would let insurers siphon out the healthy and leave the sick behind.

John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, simply repeated the GOP talking point about scrapping the 2,000 page bill and doing the easy popular stuff: "Why can't we agree on those insurance reforms we talked about? Why can't we agree on purchasing across state lines?" It's like he wasn't even there. Does he not understand what the other side is saying? Does he not care at all? It's not that he's provided an answer to Obama's arguments that I disagree with. He's just totally unable to acknowledge or engage at any level with the arguments presented. You're debating a brick wall.

The closest thing I've seen to a substantive rebuttal from the GOP has been from Paul Ryan, the right-wing rising star. Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama's claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you'd have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it's not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

(Those few conservatives who engage with this point typically point to the fable of the mythical doc fix, to undergird their belief that the savings won't actually materialize. This myth has also been debunked on multiple levels. The "doc fix" was not intended to save a lot of money for the government, it has saved more than it was projected to save, and most Medicare cuts do stick.)

Now, Democrats did not refute Ryan's claim. The following speaker was Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra, who failed to take the point on at all. (It was another instance of Obama letting his teammates try, unsuccessfully, to make a layup instead of grabbing the ball and dunking.)

The thing is, that kind of debunked objection is the deepest and most detailed reply I've seen from the GOP all day. The best ones have specific but misinformed views. The worst ones are like Boehner. Now, I'm sure a great many Democrats in Congress also have a pretty sketchy understanding of the issue. But this summit is showing the sheer impossibility of trying to find intellectual common ground. John Podhoretz calls Obama "startlingly condescending at moments." How can that be avoided when you're trying to have a high-level discussion with people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk radio-level slogans at worst?