President Obama has so lowered expectations for the Republican Party that if they come to the health care summit he has called at the White House with concrete and well articulated proposals, it will blow the country away. Repeatedly, the president has fashioned the GOP as the party of "no," goading them by saying, "If you have any ideas, bring them on."
Well, let them do it.
Republicans need to be on their toes and aggressive in the meeting, and not let it devolve into a question and answer session with the president hogging the mike. He asked for a meeting, not a lecture or a media conference, and Republicans need to demand equal time to present their ideas.
Start with tort reform. The Republicans need to explain how much of the unnecessary medical costs are being driven by useless tort litigation. In Mississippi, where they acted to preclude much of it, malpractice premiums have declined by 50 percent.
The GOP needs to explain to the nation that when the president says he is going to cut costs by eliminating tests that aren't necessary, he is catching doctors in a vice. On the one side, they have the government prohibiting or discouraging them from tests, and on the other, the trial lawyer bar waiting to pounce on them for failing to administer the proper tests if their care has a bad outcome.
The Republicans need to make the cost-cutting part of the health care summit about tort reform, constantly raising the subject as the counter to the president's proposed $500 billion cut in Medicare.
Then Republicans need to discuss other cost-saving measures, such as allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines and other measures to encourage competition.
Republicans should also zero in on the need for more doctors if we are to expand the number of patients covered. They must articulate the conclusion so much of the nation has come to (but official Washington has never embraced) that you cannot have more patients without more doctors unless you want to impose rationing. They should make the case that you need to phase in coverage for those who are not now covered so that you can increase the supply of doctors and nurses at the same time. Supply must keep pace with demand so that artificial scarcity does not leave the nation short of doctors.
The Republicans need to point out that in Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney inflicted a version of Obamacare on the state, the waiting time to see a doctor in Boston is now 63 days. They need to stress that any rationing will be felt primarily by the elderly and will lead to premature deaths.
Finally, Republicans need to explain their own proposals for reforming health care -- including Medical Savings Accounts and expansions of current tax breaks to encourage people and small businesses to purchase insurance.
Then, Republicans need to keep up a steady drumfire of criticism of the president's proposals. They need to:
-- Attack the proposed cuts in Medicare.
-- Criticize the individual mandate as unconstitutional and paint a vivid picture of how much it will cost young families.
-- Demand that young people be permitted to purchase catastrophic coverage to satisfy any mandate rather than full coverage they don't need.
-- Spell out, in detail, how the tax on medical devices will raise the cost of pacemakers, automated wheelchairs, arterial stints, prosthetic limbs and all manner of necessary medical equipment.
-- Attack the proposal to make a taxpayer spend 10 percent of his income, as opposed to 7.5 percent at present, on medical expenses in order to deduct them. Expose this tax as a tax on the sick.
-- Criticize the idea that people could be imprisoned for failing to have health insurance or to pay the fine the legislation imposes. There is a big difference between tax evasion and failing to have health insurance.
With proper preparation, the Republicans can turn this health care summit into a nationally televised town meeting such as frustrated Democratic congressmen last August.