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Last week, Republicans tried to sell us health care reform–seven years from now. The idea was that if private insurers don’t clean up their act by 2016, we’ll pull the trigger and implement a public option. Yeah, and if, by 2016, the devil doesn’t quit tempting people to murder and steal, we’ll douse his fires. The devil isn’t going to change and neither are the insurance companies.

Since that notion didn’t fly, the distraction du jour is health co-ops. As with rural electric co-ops, people in each state would be members and control their own health insurance organization. It reminds one of the days when Blue Cross/Blue Shield was a non-profit. Is returning to the eighties really going to solve our problem?

This brain child of Senator Conrad, D-N.D., attempts to create a public option of sorts, while avoiding an actual public option. Why bother? Using co-ops to spare people from private insurers is like dicing vegetables with nail clippers instead of a paring knife. Don’t do it the hard way.

Co-ops would still require federal money to get them started; we’re not talking savings on the cost of the plan. In fact, when you have to invent fifty new bureaucracies instead of one, you’re wasting time and money. But most of all, co-ops with, say, half a million members, would have nowhere near the bargaining power to pull down prices at hospitals and pharmaceutical companies that a nationwide group of a hundred million people would have.

Supposedly, Conrad proposed this co-op nonsense to placate Republicans, who are adamantly opposed to a public option–which is the bottom line on them: “adamantly opposed.” They are the party of No … ideas. Listen to Roy Blunt, the man the Republican leadership designated to come up with a GOP plan, talk about health care:

Uh, the health care is an importance, obligation, for a society to have a health care system that works. Uh, I, I don’t know that it’s the id- I don’t believe that it’s the obligation of government, necessarily to do that. I do think the government here has a chance to step in and create a health care system that’s more patient, doctor-patient driven. A health care system that has more choices for people. (…) Uh, sixty-one percent of the American people under, who aren’t on Medicare, get their, their health insurance at work. But you don’t have many choices even at work. So I, I have a view that if you like what you have in health care you should be able to keep it. But even if you like what you have and, and we’ve, we work hard to be sure you keep it, and employer provided health care or your other options, we should be working toward more of a, uh, marketplace for you.

Did you get the gist of the plan there? Let me summarize it for you: imagine a Jon Stewart deadpan. That’s it. That’s the plan. A silent, deadpan stare from Blunt when the subject of health care arose would have been just as informative and a lot more truthful than that barrage of cliches he offered.

If only Republicans would confine themselves to mere ineptitude. Instead, bereft of actual ideas, they spend their time trying to torpedo reform. They suckered Senate Democrats into a p.r. blunder that blew up this week. The backstory is that Republicans in the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Dodd–in Kennedy’s absence–complained that they are uncomfortable with a public option and with employer mandated participation in the plan. They asked Democrats to get the Congressional Budget Office to run the figures on how much health care reform would cost without those two items. In a naive show of attempted bipartisanship, Dodd agreed.

When the report came back, the cost was–no surprise here–flaming huge. If you take out the public option, coverage will remain ridiculously expensive; and if you don’t require employers to kick in their part, you deprive the plan of revenue. Republicans waved the CBO report and crowed about how the nation is about to go to ruination because of the impractical plans of Democrats. It was a setup, plain and simple. And worse than a setup:

Now, Republicans have a history of dismissing CBO reports when it suits them, so this is hypocrisy, too. John McCain’s economic advisor, Dougals Holtz-Eakin, said 10 year CBO numbers are “not a good use of projection” and you’d be on “dangerous ground” to use them as such (see Investor’s Business Daily, 5/29/03). Bush dismissed 10 year CBO estimates as “notoriously innacurate.” And Congressional Republicans didn’t even show up to the hearing on the CBO’s projected cost of the Iraq war.

So Dodd was p-i-s-s-e-d. Which is a good thing. Get it through your heads, Democrats, that Republicans are like the scorpion who stung the frog that was ferrying him across the river. They will betray you, even if they suffer for it.

And the appropriate suffering, in this case, would be for the Senate to use reconciliation.