The Spokesman-Review


SUNDAY, FEB. 7, 2010

Cure won’t be bipartisan

I keep hearing Democrats complain that Republicans don’t have a health care plan, but they do. It’s just that it doesn’t achieve the same goal of covering more Americans.

House Republicans introduced a plan in November that called for allowing insurance to be sold across state lines, permitting small businesses to band together to seek lower insurance rates and adopting tort reform measures aimed at limiting malpractice lawsuits. Insurance companies would still be allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, but the plan would encourage states to form high-risk pools to help such people gain coverage.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said his plan would lower costs, which would pave the way for more people to buy insurance. He is half right. Both parties’ plans would lower costs and lower the budget deficit over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But by 2019, the GOP proposal would leave 52 million Americans uninsured, up from the current 50 million.

The call for bipartisanship implies that if Democrats would adopt some of the Republican ideas, health care reform could move forward. But I find it hard to fathom that Democrats would drop the goal of near-universal coverage, and I don’t believe Republicans would accept the spending needed to help people purchase coverage, even if they won concessions on tort reform or selling insurance across state lines.

The media narrative is that both sides are not listening to each other. Wrong. They know the goals are entirely different and that tweaking the details is pointless.

If the Democrats hope to achieve their goal, they will have to go it alone. If the Republicans are serious about their plan, you have to wonder why they didn’t try to pass it when they were in power.

Accelerated damage. President Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” He also said, “I don’t believe in government that protects us from ourselves.”

The problem is that the powerful people most responsible for the economic meltdown reflexively agreed with those sentiments, so they dismissed the early warning flags raised by government regulators.

When Brooksley Born was the chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the 1990s, she was alarmed that the complex derivatives market was valued at nearly $700 trillion and was free from government oversight. When she broached the topic with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Clinton administration officials, she was rebuffed, according to a PBS “Frontline” documentary. It was derivatives that eventually spread the mortgage virus throughout the world economy.

When Armando Falcon Jr. ran a tiny office overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he issued a report in 2003 warning that the mortgage giants could default on debt, which would be ruinous to the economy. Fearing his report would bring more regulation, Fannie and Freddie tried to get him fired. He survived and the White House ultimately embraced the findings. But the damage was done.

As Toyota endures daily pain over vehicle safety issues, you have to wonder whether it wouldn’t have appreciated more government braking to protect it from itself.

Once a week. Solving the world’s problems will now take twice as long, because this column will no longer appear on Wednesdays. We need to scale it back to once a week to free me up for some upcoming Opinion page projects. We’ll start implementing those plans as soon as we sort out the details. See you next Sunday.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.

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