The Debate Over Repealing Health Care Reform Is Fake, and Boring

Forgive me for finding the debate over repealing health care reform to be irredeemable boring. But I do.

Maybe it's because we're simply re-frying a discussion between two sides who have been entrenched since the summer of 2009. Democrats still think health care reform will reduce the deficit. Republicans still don't trust the CBO. Washingtonians believing only the numbers that uphold their ideological preferences: who ever heard of such a thing? Or maybe it's because the House's repeal vote amounts to little more than a carrot for the rambunctious GOP freshman class, since health care reform will not be repealed with Reid and Obama in their current jobs. Even conservatives I've spoken with acknowledge that repeal isn't going anywhere.

What we have here is, functionally, not a piece of legislation, but an invitation to fill the airwaves with talking points that haven't changed in 20 months disguised as a piece of legislation.

The only thing that has surprised me in the last few days is the insistence among some conservatives that they have discovered a new argument against health care reform, when what they've really done is find new numbers to make old arguments. Charles Krauthammer puts it briefly:

Suppose someone - say, the president of United States - proposed the following: We are drowning in debt. More than $14 trillion right now. I've got a great idea for deficit reduction. It will yield a savings of $230 billion over the next 10 years: We increase spending by $540 billion while we increase taxes by $770 billion.

He'd be laughed out of town.

No, I don't understand why this very obvious description of March 2010 is framed as a hypothetical. In any case, Krauthammer's point is really simple. He is a Republican and Republicans don't believe in new entitlements even if they're paid for (except when they do). The president is a Democrat and Democrats believe in new entitlements and then they raise taxes and cut spending to pay for them. Democrats point Republicans to the CBO, the CBO says the Democrats are right, Republicans say the CBO is wrong, and around and around we go, and it doesn't matter, because the CBO is scoring a bill that Republicans are fundamentally against.

Here's what we have. One side doesn't want to spend more money to insure more Americans, and the other side wants to pay for their insurance with tax increases and spending cuts. The numbers are beside the point now. This isn't a math problem, and it's not even really a debate anymore, it's a calcified difference of ideology.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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