Do the Health Care Ends Justify the Means?

Posted: Mar 04, 2010 7:33 AM
The first year of Barack Obama's presidency has come down to this: either the package is going to pass or it isn't. Conclusive, right? As Megan McArdle has said, there's no middle ground any more. Seemingly no room for compromise, no room for adjustment, no going back to the drawing board. What's on the table is on the table, and Congress is going to take it or leave it.

Republicans have resorted to every procedural, political and permissable tactic to try to delay and ultimately defeat this bill. From scaremongering about Medicare to merely wasting a few hours while forcing a reading of a multiple-hundred-page amendment, they've pulled out all the stops. Some of the GOP's maneuvers have been admirable, some of them have been humorous, and some of them have been downright underhanded. But they turned what seemed like a mathematical inevitability into a chaos-scramble to the finish line.

Along with many (smarter) people, I continue to think this is a bad bill that should not be passed. If it is so that the Republicans succeed in defeating Obamacare, does this justify the means with which they did so?

Public opinion has turned decisively against Obamacare and the Democrats will pay a high price come November. The GOP has merely escalted the legislative obstruction tactics that the Democrats embarked on in the Bush years (which, many could argue, were an escalation of the Republicans' strategy against Bill Clinton before then).

The Republicans have flirted with danger. They categorically demonized Medicare cuts, something that needs to happen in the future if we are to get our health spending under control. They have engaged in amazing stall tactics and used the threat of a filibuster more effectively than many recent Congresses. In an increasingly polarized political environment, this may not be helpful. The GOP also still has the "infinite amendments" trick up their sleeve, if it comes to that.

Bottom line: even if the GOP does defeat Obamacare, the ends won't have justified the means. Republicans have pulled out all the stops to come out with a political victory. It would be a huge, and important victory. But they could have done themselves harm and furthered the fierce partisanship in the Senate on their way there. I personally don't think the GOP's tactics have been too brutal, but it's up to the future voters and Congresspeople to decide.

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