They didn't like the last health plan, and they won't like yours either.  Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg News
They didn't like the last health plan, and they won't like yours either.  Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg News

Kevin Drum and Ross Douthat are both correct about the new Coburn/Hatch/Burr Senate Republican health-care plan: Douthat because he thinks it’s a big deal, and Drum because he decides to ignore it.

Drum first: If what we’re really interested in is actual public policy, then the Republican plan is pretty much beside the point. As he points out, the authors are already backing away from the taxes needed to make the thing work (along with changing the tax treatment of employer-linked plans, which is the key mechanism) because tax increases are a nonstarter in the Republican Party.

Yet even if somehow Republicans could be sold on taxes, and even in the event of a Republican landslide in 2016, another major, disruptive overhaul of health care just isn’t going to be at the top of their agenda. It’s much more likely that they’ll focus on tax cuts (perhaps presented as "tax reform"), and selective spending cuts to Democratic constituencies. That’s where the real enthusiasm of the party lies. And so I think Drum is right to ignore the substance of the Republican plan.

But Douthat is also right that this is potentially a big deal. Those of us who've complained about a “post-policy” Republican Party have noted that this is particularly a big deal for Republicans themselves. If all Republicans can muster is knee-jerk opposition to whatever Obama and the Democrats propose (dusted with a bunch of phony “issues” designed to keep Fox News customers buying the product), then the biggest losers are genuine conservatives. After all, conservatives need politicians to represent their policy preferences, not just attack someone else's.

So even if the Coburn/Hatch/Burr plan doesn’t go anywhere, and even if it’s not really quite at the legislative stage, and even if real legislators are still vastly outnumbered in Republican ranks by the clown show, it’s still a lot healthier to have moved to a (still-small) group of serious legislators than it was when the only Republicans trying to draft policy were a handful of bloggers and wonks who were constantly at risk of being excommunicated for their heresies. Given the Republican decline over the past few years, if Coburn, Hatch, and Burr are merely defeated (or ignored), rather than branded as RINOs, that’s a solid step in the right direction.

So, yup, this initiative almost certainly isn’t going anywhere. But it’s still good news for Republicans and conservatives.

To contact the writer of this article: Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Francis Wilkinson at +1-212-617-8699 or fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net.