Maybe it was just coincidence that House Republicans unveiled their vision for America on the same day new consumer protections from the Affordable Care Act went into effect. But it felt like some higher power was sending Americans a message—about which political party wants to act like a bunch of grown-ups and which one does not.
The consumer health care protections that took effect on Thursday will help millions of Americans—by making it easier to afford preventative care, guaranteeing that children with pre-existing conditions can get insurance, etc. And these reforms are just a down-payment on the much bigger changes the Affordable Care Act will eventually bring—changes that will allow most of the uninsured to get coverage while starting to change the practice of medicine, in ways that hopefully will make it less expensive.
Of course, the law is far from perfect. The big changes don't take effect until 2014; even then, the insurance will not be as generous or reliable as it could be. Plenty of people object to the whole idea of the law, on philosophical grounds, or think it will do more harm than good.
But even skeptics concede that the law will realize some of its core goals, like ensuring more people have insurance. A wide variety of respected independent experts, including some conservatives, approve of the law’s method for reducing the cost of medical care. And the Congressional Budget Office has certified that the measure will actually save the taxpayers some money, following through on the Democrats' vow to be fiscally responsible. Maybe it will work well and maybe it won't. But at least it's a credible, intellectually coherent piece of public policy.
Can you say similar things about the “Pledge to America,” as the House Republicans are calling their new manifesto? It is full of little lies, like the deceptively designed graph that my colleague Alexander Hart identified and the bogus promise to insure people with pre-existing conditions. And those are trivial compared to the document's one, really big lie—that Republicans will balance the budget even as they call for trillions of dollars in new tax cuts. As my colleague Jonathan Chait notes, it's the same set of promises they've been making for years: "a combination of specific, detailed plans to increase the deficit alongside vague assertions of intent to reduce it."
If Republicans were serious about reducing deficits, they’d call for significantly reducing entitlement and defense spending, since that’s where the money is. Or, if they simply wanted to cut taxes without reducing the size of government, they’d quit promising to balance the budget. Either strategy would be honest and, intellectually speaking, defensible. But either would also require confronting the trade-offs in public policy and figuring out how to deal with them politically. That's what the Democrats did when they crafted health care reform. Apparently the Republicans aren't ready for that sort of thing yet.
There's a grown-up conversation to be had about the direction of this country. And there are, I know, grown-up conservatives willing to have that conversation. But they don't seem to have a place in the Republican Party right now.
Update: I reworded a few passages for clarity and empahsis.