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The gaping hole in the Republican response
Analysis on the 2022 State of the Union
During last night’s State of the Union, President Joseph Biden talked up the benefits of his Build Back Better policy and the American Rescue Plan, focusing on their healthcare sections. His agenda would expand the Affordable Care Act and restructure parts of Medicare and Medicaid. He determinedly said that his proposal will lower the healthcare costs for all Americans.
This message will resonate with people. Healthcare has been and continues to be one of the kitchen table issues that voters care about. If Mr. Biden’s State of the Union is to be taken as the policy message for the Democrats in the midterms, and I believe it should, Republicans should come up with a measured response and try to outshine the President with their own proposals.
The Republican response to the State of the Union, however, was lacking in this regard. Delivered by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, it gave no substantive responses to the President’s proposals and simply rehashed talking points that dated back to the 2020 election. It even came to the same conclusion Mr. Biden did: the state of the Union is strong.
Rather than try and rebut the President and his healthcare policies, Ms. Reynolds flung standard Republican red herrings at Mr. Biden and Democrats in general. She criticized progressive school boards, tax dollars going to majority Democratic states, and regarding healthcare, complained about COVID-19 restrictions imposed in Democratic controlled legistlatures. Restrictions, I might add, that are going away in every state except Hawaii.
The President easily teed up criticisms to his defense of his Build Back Better agenda. His plan would expand the Affordable Care Act, a proposal that the Kaiser Family Foundation says would cost $70.3 billion in the next ten years.
How did Ms. Reynolds respond? Republicans were the ones to “follow the science,” she said, because they did not impose lock downs and lifted mask restrictions sooner. While this resonates with some people, most Americans worry that lifting pandemic restrictions could lead to an increase in deaths in their community or that they will not be able to get healthcare because hospitals will be overrun. Most importantly, complaining about COVID-19 restrictions is not a good response to an actual policy proposal.
The Iowa governor cited Build Back Better while criticising tax breaks (as part of pandemic relief) for states like California and New York, extended umemployment benefits, and “bankrupting [American] children.” None of this is new information; we have heard all of these criticism before.
These policies do not rank among the top four issues among all voters in the United States. In fact, COVID-19 does not even rank in the top four. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s monthly COVID-19 vaccine monitor found the economy and inflation, voting rights, foreign policy, and healthcare costs where the most prevelant issues across the board.
The American people care about healthcare and the economy and KFF’s polling supports this claim. Their most recent poll shows that eighty-two percent of Americans think healthcare costs are somewhat or very important in the upcoming election.
We have repeatedly said here on FLATLINING that the three things people want in healthcare are quality, affordability, and universality. We also have repeatedly said you can have two of those, but not three. If healthcare costs are ranking in the top four issues that all voters care about, then I would wager that quality and affordability are the top two adjectives people want in front of the word “healthcare.”
Even if someone disagrees with Mr. Biden’s proposals to expand the Affordable Care Act or have Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices, he or she must admit that saying “my plan will give you quality and affordable healthcare” will perk up the ears of eighty-two percent of Americans.
It is a shame that Ms. Reynolds did not even hint at Republican healthcare policy. While running for Lieutenant Governor and then Governor of Iowa, she has called for increases in spending for mental healthcare, criticized the Affordable Care Act, and has been a big supporter of the “repeal and replace” movement. She clearly is comfortable sharing her opinions on healthcare; so why did she refrain from doing so last night?
Could Republicans be misconstruing COVID-19 policies and healthcare? Possibly and if this is the case then they are in for a shock. The majority of Americans right now say that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and if true, the pandemic is not where Republicans’ focus should be entering the midterms. Also, COVID-19 policies do not equate to healthcare. Republicans can argue that COVID-19 policies triggered economic disasters, but to respond to the Affordable Care Act or Medicare for All proposals with COVID-19 will not suffice.
Republicans have no response to the Democrats’ healthcare policy right now and clearly the days of “repeal and replace” are long past us. It seems thath the current Republican attitude towards healthcare is to complain about Medicare not covering expensive and ineffective drugs or to say “we did COVID-19 different.”
Unless Republicans come up with a proposal to counter Mr. Biden’s healthcare policies in Build Back Better, they will not be able to take back the Senate, much less the House, in November. Challenging COVID-19 policies or criticizing decisions made two years ago are not going to cut it for the American people.
You can watch President Joe Biden’s 2022 State of the Union address and the Republican response, delivered by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, here: