Steve Chapman

The truth is Republicans just can't muster an interest in the subject until a Democratic president comes along and offers legislation, which is their cue to wake up and scream in horror. They solemnly agree the existing system has a host of serious flaws. But they can never get excited about fixing them -- only about making sure Democrats don't get to.

"The passion you need to drive health care reform through Congress has not been present with Republicans," laments Gail Wilensky, who headed the agency that runs Medicare under President George H.W. Bush and advised both George W. Bush and John McCain. "Even liability reform -- they couldn't get that through."

Stuart Butler, a veteran health care expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, shares her frustration. When I asked him whether he blamed Republicans for not adopting sensible innovations when they held power, he replied, "Absolutely! They just don't get it. They just feel that it's not something they do, somehow. Republicans missed a tremendous opportunity."

Actually, they did worse than miss an opportunity. They stimulated the public appetite for lavish federal spending on health care while catering to the illusion that it can be provided painlessly.

"They put in prescription drug coverage for Medicare," Butler complains, "the biggest entitlement since the Johnson administration." That program is projected to cost nearly $1 trillion in federal outlays over the next decade, most of which will be paid for by sending the bill to our children.

So now we have the GOP railing against Obama because he rejects their good ideas, busts the budget and enlarges the government's role in our lives. No wonder they're mad. Heck, if that's what the American people wanted, they could have left Republicans in power.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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