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Having It Both Ways

Erik Kain writes in his response:

Rather than promise to filibuster health reform, I wish Brown would bring some of the experience he has had with Massachusetts reform to the table and work to strengthen the bill. That he will not is my only sticking point against Brown, but it is a very substantial sticking point.

Let’s agree for the sake of discussion that Erik is correct that a strong mandate is imperative to cost containment. If that is so, how is it to Brown’s credit that he supported the Massachusetts legislation? If the federal bill has a weak mandate and if Erik is right that this will do a poor job of cost containment, the state legislation does not seem to have had a mandate that was any better. As I understand it, MassCare imposed an individual mandate and provided subsidies for those who could not afford insurance. According to reports I have read and by Brown’s own admission, there were no meaningful cost containment measures in the 2006 bill that he supported. Absent affordable coverage, achieving universal or near-universal coverage requires a subsidy, which Massachusetts has been providing, and it is this provision that has been eating up so much of the budget.

The bill has become a cause of serious fiscal problems in Massachusetts, the very same kind of fiscal problems Brown now claims as a reason for opposing the federal bill. Nonetheless, he continues to tout his support for the legislation, and he believes other states should “follow our example.” So they should follow the example of mandating expensive coverage and having taxpayers foot an ever-increasing bill? Naturally, Brown opposes the federal bill because he aspires to a federal Republican office and opposition to the administration’s agenda is a basic requirement of being accepted by the national party and conservative activists, so there was never any question of Brown bringing his experience with MassCare to change the federal bill. The point here is not that Brown shouldn’t oppose the Senate version of the bill. The point is that it strains credulity to listen to him reject the federal bill while urging other states to imitate a deeply flawed MassCare when it lacks the cost containment elements that make the federal bill similarly flawed and deserving of opposition.

Erik won’t like this comparison, but Brown’s attempt to have it both ways on this issue seems a lot like when Palin took credit for jacking up windfall profits taxes on oil corporations in one breath and then in the next played the part of champion of anti-tax activists and friend to Joe the Plumber. Back home, sticking it to oil corporations and spreading the wealth were all right by her, but on the national stage there was nothing more offensive to her than the redistribution of wealth. In Alaska, she was the populist sending out bigger checks to voters to buy support and popularity, and on the campaign trail she was the scourge of socialism. Arguably, this is a product of the national party’s ability to force rising politicians to conform and abandon whatever traits or ideas made them popular and electable at the local and state level, but Brown is no more immune to it than Palin was. Erik’s enthusiasm for Brown as a would-be refomist is likely to lead to disappointment.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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