Centrist Democrats' opposition to health reform verges on the incoherent. A caucus (the Blue Dogs) formed ostensibly to promote balanced budgets now disapproves of the proposed taxes that would cover the expenses of the new programs. The congressional centrists say, commendably, that they want to squeeze more economies out of the system, but they oppose giving more power to an agency that would set the payment scales for physicians.
[...] The Republican opposition to President Obama's push for health-care reform, on the other hand, makes clear political sense. If they can stop Obama on health care, as South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint recently noted, it "will be his Waterloo." Why Democrats of any ideology want to cripple their own president in his first year in office, and for seeking an objective that has been a stated goal of their party since the Truman administration, is a more mysterious matter.
Is the additional tax burden on small businesses their concern? If so, good news: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that only the top 4 percent of those businesses would be affected by the surcharge that House Democratic leaders proposed, and that's based on the original proposal, before Speaker Nancy Pelosi altered it to include just the wealthiest fraction of the top 1 percent of Americans. Would such a tax impede an economic recovery? In downturns this severe, it's been broad-based consumer spending and public-sector investment that have revived the economy. Private investment doesn't jump-start a revival of purchasing; it follows it.
But the big picture here, of which the resistance to reforming health care is just one element, is our growing inability to meet our national challenges. Almost all of the major nations with which we trade, for instance, have quasi-mercantilist policies that lead them to champion their own higher-wage growth industries, often in manufacturing. In America alone are such policies considered anathema. In consequence, as the Alliance for American Manufacturing reports in a new book, we shuttered 40,000 factories from 2001 through 2007 -- the years, ostensibly of prosperity, between the past two downturns. The diminution of manufacturing, which employs just 11 percent of the U.S. workforce, may please Wall Street, which looks with disfavor on decent-wage domestic production, and Wal-Mart, which tripled its purchases from China (from $9 billion to $27 billion annually) during roughly the same years those American factories closed, but it poses a clear threat to the nation's economic, and even military, power.
But act on behalf of the nation as a whole, even if it means goring Wall Street's or Wal-Mart's oxen? Perish the thought. Pass a health-reform bill that will cover 45 million uninsured Americans and slow the ruinous growth of health-care spending? Not if somebody, somewhere, actually has to pay higher taxes. Hey, we're America -- the can't-do nation.
As our former president might put it, Heckuva job, Brownies.