Who Could Have Anticipated?
Republicans decided to attack the individual mandate today, specifically hitting the notion of penalties for not buying insurance.
WASHINGTON -- Senior Republicans challenged Democratic plans to require nearly all people to carry health insurance, sharpening attacks on the first day of Senate Finance Committee debate over legislation to overhaul the nation's health-care system.
The criticism underscored Republican concerns that the legislation represents unwarranted government intrusion into private matters, and highlighted the partisan divide over the White House's top domestic priority. Put on the defensive, the committee's chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), cut in half the maximum penalty for families that don't have health coverage to $1,900 from $3,800 per year.
Advocates of a coverage mandate say it is needed to ensure that young, healthy people get insurance and contribute to the system. They say this will ease costs associated with an influx of less-healthy people who are expected to get coverage under the Baucus legislation.
Republicans, who are trying to slow Democratic efforts to pass a health overhaul by the end of the year, rushed to criticize the proposal.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the Finance Committee's senior Republican, said the mandate is among the reasons that he couldn't support the bill despite months of negotiations with Mr. Baucus. "Individuals should maintain their freedom to chose health-care coverage, or not," he said.
"This bill is a stunning assault on liberty," said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate's second-ranking Republican.
Now of course, Chuck Grassley is full of it. And the Republicans did agree to mandates months ago. But any Democratic official surprised by the intensity of this complaint needs to leave Washington permanently. These are the people who call the repeal of tax breaks a tax increase. They call a reduction in growth of defense spending a spending cut. Their logic has never had to subject itself to the rigors of consistency.
What's more, Obama argued against mandates in the primary campaign. And without a public option, there's a compelling argument to be made that mandates for private insurance is a forced monopoly. Furthermore, it was always going to be the case that criminalizing someone for not having insurance would be unpopular. As Richard Kirsch says, the public option makes mandates popular.
Baucus (D-Mont.) has tried to remedy the situation by halving the penalty on families who decline to buy coverage and increasing the subsidies to those middle-class families purchasing insurance. But Kirsch insists that, without the ability to choose a government run option, consumers - and by extension the politicians who represent them - will turn sour on the mandate.
"We did a poll in Maine and in 91 swing House districts," said Kirsch. "We found that if we asked people if they supported a requirement to buy health insurance they said no. But if we said, 'Do you support a requirement coverage between private and public?' they said yes."
"Conservative democrats are going to be attacked from the right on the mandates but what makes the mandates popular is the public option."
This is especially true if the coverage subsidies are too low.
So really, this is a problem of the Democrats' own making.
...to be clear, I believe in mandates because the system won't really work without them. But from a political standpoint, mandates on just private coverage are a loser.