Wamp: Time to enter arena on health care debate

Wamp: Time to enter arena on health care debate

September 21st, 2013 By Weston Wamp in Opinion Columns

Weston Wamp Contributed photo

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

If the government shuts down at the beginning of October, it will be unfortunate. Unfortunate because of the economic toll it will take and the missed opportunity by House Republicans it will represent. Of course, none of us should be surprised. A government shutdown would perfectly fit the personality of our chaotic 113th Congress.

Legislatively it may be the least productive congressional session in history. A government shutdown would give its members another opportunity to return home and jump onto their soapboxes.

I was eight years old when the government shut down the last time. My father was a first-term congressman when Newt Gingrich used continuing resolutions to take the federal government to the brink. As a little kid earnest to learn my first lessons about our democratic republic, I saw firsthand the unintended consequences of dogmatism. Since the American people are usually more willing to negotiate than their leaders, they tend to hold government shutdowns, and other massive failures of leadership, against the party that "takes its marbles and goes home," especially when the the most powerful government in the history of the world is set to turn off the lights.

Gingrich seems to have learned this lesson, advising Speaker Boehner to match criticisms of Obamacare with Republican solutions. So have most Republican Senators who loath the House Republicans' plan to try to defund Obamacare for what seems to be the millionth time. But this time it's threatening to shut the government down in order to cut its purse strings.

My fellow University of Tennessee alumnus Sen. Bob Corker, said it well when he chided Ivy League educated freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, "I didn't go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count." Cruz and others have tirelessly rallied grassroots conservatives around a controversial plan to defund Obamacare. As Corker reminds us, "This is a tactic that won't work. When you have one third of government you don't run the government."

The reasons that Republicans are frustrated are legitimate. Obamacare, the President's signature legislative accomplishment, is at best, not going as planned and at worst, the most convoluted form of health care imaginable. But that doesn't change the fact that our country needed health care reform in 2010 and we need still need it today.

Being a critic of Obamacare is easy. While the law got a few things right like forcing insurers to cover preexisting conditions, it truly is riddled with harmful fine print and exacerbates many of our existing health care problems. On the other hand, it would be difficult and politically risky for legislators to offer comprehensive alternatives that could lower costs and expand health care coverage. So the critic has become a popular role to play on Capitol Hill.

But at the moment the American people are weary of both Obamacare and its critics.

Even Obama ally Warren Buffet recently conceded that Obamacare should be dismantled and reworked. A leaked memo from Delta Airlines last month revealed the law will increase its health care costs by almost $100 million next year. And due to Obamacare, Walgreens announced this week it will simply give its employees money to figure out health care on their own. For all intents and purposes, Obamacare will defund itself as its few remaining supporters jump ship.

It is clear that many of the House Republicans who have committed themselves to the defeat of Obamacare feel that their manhood is now on the line. That's why the words of the Bull Moose, so tough he was once shot in the chest while giving a speech and kept speaking, are pertinent. In a now famous 1910 speech Teddy Roosevelt suggested that, "It is not the critic who counts...the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena." For this congress, being in the arena requires real, tangible alternatives, not just loud opposition, to bad legislation.

Today our government spends more per capita on health care than most countries with nationalized medicine, only it does not provide most of us with health care. That fact alone justifies the need for reform. Unfortunately, instead of hearing about market-based alternatives or fundamental adjustments that can be made to Obamacare, we are being told by House Republicans we have to shut down the entire government to defund the bill that is already unraveling itself. I believe a solution to our health care woes exists if House Republicans would muster the courage to enter the "arena."

Weston Wamp is director of communications at the Lamp Post Group.