Republicans vs. the Business Community
We're seeing something very interesting right now. A Republican Party unmoored from its traditional supporters in the business community. A conservative base that wants something that the health care industry doesn't want. For those whose mental model of the Republican Party is that it's essentially a vessel for corporate interests, that model is about to receive a dramatic test.
In March of 2008, I attended the national policy conference put on by America's Health Insurance Plans. Dave Camp, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, was one of the featured speakers, and he gave the shpiel you'd expect. "We don't want a government controlled, bureaucratically regulated health care system where only those with the money to fly to other countries will be able to get life-saving treatments, and you all will be out of business," he told the insurers. Silence. "We have to start defining this debate, we have to start defining what Obama-Clinton-Stark-Dingell will be." Silence. The rest of his standard applause lines were met with similar diffidence.
Then came questions from the assembled insurers. The first asked why politicians talked so much about reform but never did anything. The next accused Camp of being exactly as extreme as Pete Stark. Then came a questioner saying: "Put your personal preferences aside for a minute. What chance do you think the Wyden bill has?"
Till that point, my mental model had been that Republican positions rested atop a bedrock of industry support. If industry moved, so too would Republicans. But that day, at least, it wasn't true. Dave Camp was considerably more conservative than the insurance industry executives. He fell flat. Andy Stern got a better reception than he did. And it's a strange day when the insurers prefer the directness of a union firebrand who tells them they have a "target" on their backs to the pandering of a Republican legislator who tells them his party will protect their industry from change.
One difference between 1994 and 2009 is that the health-care industry and the business community range from neutral to supportive of the White House. The Chamber of Commerce, in fact, is running ads against Republicans who are opposing health-care reform. AHIP wants a deal. So does Pharma. They may not want the deal that liberals want. The deal they want may, in fact, be bad. But their preferred outcome is a lot closer to the White House's vision of success than it is to Mitch McConnell's vision of success.
Republicans, however, are no more supportive of health-care reform than they were in 1994. Conservatives are exactly as angry. The town halls are, if anything, louder and more brutal. Talk radio is up in arms. The controversy and chaos are scaring the broader public. No one wants a health care bill that might contain a euthanasia provision.
We're about to see a very interesting test case: Can the business community and the health care industry deliver Republican votes? Will their presence on the side of reform -- even if only nominally so -- change the outcome? Or has the opposition of industry been an excuse for past failures, and it's in fact the minority party's incentive to kill reform that's foiled each and every attempt?
Photo credit: AP Photo/Hans Pennink
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