- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

In political combat, there are few more potent weapons than a single word or a catchy phrase that can be used to target a proposal and drive it into the ground.

For Republicans, “rationing” could be that poison-tipped arrow for the Democratic-led health care bill, much as “amnesty” was the club with which conservatives beat President Bush’s attempt at immigration reform into a bloody pulp in 2007.

“Governments ration care to control costs, and we’ve got stories from other countries where disabled children wait up to two years for wheelchairs. We’ve got a story that we found: a 76-year-old retiree pulled out their own teeth,” said Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee.

“Government rationing is a scary proposition,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, echoed this point during a conference call Wednesday, warning that the government could get into the business of rationing health care, deciding how much Americans can get or can spend on it and denying people health care that exceeds some rationed amount.

“The rationing problem is very real in all this and I think that as the American people learn more and more about the proposals as we are now being allowed more time for them to engage on this issue, they are very, very much concerned,” he said.

But Democrats say the insurance companies are already rationing care and that the reforms they want would cover all those who are being denied coverage under the current system, as well as keep down costs through an intensive focus on which medical procedures and products deliver care most effectively.

Republicans say that under a government-run system, which they argue will result from the proposed option to buy insurance from the government, cost will come to be the dominant factor that defines “efficient care,” and thus Americans will be denied care with no recourse.

House Democrats plan to introduce their health care overhaul measure Monday and consider amendments later in the week. On Sunday’s talk shows, there was disagreement on whether Congress will finish work on the bill before adjourning for the August recess.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, said on CNN that meeting the deadline was “highly unlikely” because the Senate Finance Committee had not completed a draft. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate Republican whip, said flatly there was “no chance.”

Democrats were more circumspect.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “we expect the House and Senate to have passed bills” before leaving Washington, though he doubted the legislation would be signed into law by that time. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said the bill likely would “be through the Finance Committee by the August recess,” and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said the president should be “very pleased with the progress we’re making.”

“President Obama was right about one thing. He said if it’s not done quickly, it won’t be done at all. Why did he say that? Because the longer it hangs out there, the more the American people are skeptical, anxious and even in opposition to it,” Mr. Kyl said on ABC’s “This Week.”

But if Republicans lean too heavily on one-word slogans such as “rationing,” they risk playing into their opponents’ hands. The main line of attack now used by Democrats and their allied interest groups is to portray the Republicans as members of a do-nothing party, a sort of disloyal opposition.

“All they’re doing is saying ‘no’ to everything. They’re not putting up alternatives for anyone to look at,” said Eddie Vale, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, which is working with Democrats on reform efforts.

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