The Party of No

With the healthcare debate over, and a brand new healthcare law on the books, Republicans stood in complete unison against the liberal assault on the free market. Not one single GOP member of Congress supported the final bill or the reconciliation “fix its” that came afterward. Democrats have been quick to pounce on Republican “obstruction” but the GOP should maintain their stiff resistance and “just say no” when it comes to liberal ideas.

Since losing control of the government, Republicans have been sensitive to charges that they represent nothing more than a ‘party of no.’ But during the furious debate, they unveiled a healthcare proposal of their own. The plan has its merits. Running just 230 pages, as opposed to the 2,200 page monstrosity produced by House Democrats, it relied on the free market rather than government to fix a flawed system. It included tort reforms and, most importantly, allowed health insurance to be sold across state lines, thereby putting an end to state monopolies. In addition, several incentives were built-in to encourage Americans to open healthcare savings accounts, as well as to encourage states to lower health insurance premiums.

If nothing else, the proposal demonstrated the stark contrast between conservative and liberal ideas on healthcare, giving the people a true choice. But Republicans are under no obligation to propose a healthcare bill or any other issue for that matter.

For starters, the GOP does not control either house of Congress or the presidency, so its under no pressure to produce anything. Democrats wanted both a congressional majority and the White House, and voters gave it to them, so its up to them to produce legislation and govern the country, not Republicans.

Democrat complaints would be like a football coach asking his counterpart on the opposing team to suggest plays to run.

A similar situation occurred in the 1890s. The major policy issue was the tariff. Grover Cleveland, a Democrat when Democrats were cool, attempted to lower tariffs during his first term, but his tariff bill was defeated in the Senate and he lost his bid for re-election in 1888. The new president, Benjamin Harrison, and the Republican-controlled Congress, were having trouble passing legislation. Democrats suggested proposing a tariff bill similar to one that was defeated during Cleveland’s administration but the former president had different advice.

Seeing the Republicans “getting deeper and deeper into the mire,” he wrote Congressman John Carlisle, “our policy should be to let them flounder.”

“A bill presented by us,” the former president continued, “will give the enemy what I should think they would want: an opportunity to attack some other measure instead of defending their own. In this way they can shift ground and throw more dirt in the eyes of the people.” And even if a good bill were drafted, “nothing really good coming from our side would go through.” So why bother.

Democrats took the former president’s advice and stayed out of the policy debate. Republicans eventually passed several far-reaching pieces of legislation during that session – higher tariffs, the nation’s first antitrust act, and a bill to increase the money supply, which led to inflation. They even tried to place local elections under federal supervision but failed. As a result of the overreach, Americans reacted angrily and Democrats, the ‘party of no,’ regained the House and Senate in the 1890 mid-terms. Two years later in 1892, Cleveland regained the presidency.

History has shown, such tactics can work in the short-term. Remember, Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, and then increased their majorities in both houses while gaining the presidency in 2008, and never did have a positive program for success. They simply ran against George W. Bush and the Republican party. As Sarah Palin exclaimed recently, while campaigning for John McCain, Republicans should not be a party of no, but a “party of hell no!”

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