The Wrong Health Care Questions

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza does his turn at distilling conventional wisdom this morning by asking of the Supreme Court's health care ruling yesterday: “Did Republicans lose the health care battle but win the health care war?” It's a loaded question, born of utterly predictable spin, that assumes a Republican victory regardless of the outcome. But it looks even more ridiculous when you think about the question that should be asked in its stead: We know now what Obama will run on, so what exactly is the Republican health care plan?

After the ruling was issued yesterday, Mitt Romney stood behind a podium and promised that, were he to be elected, he would repeal the law on his first day as president. The Republican National Committee blasted out talking points announcing their intention to repeat the word “tax” ad nauseam from here to November. And everyone seems very impressed that Romney claims to have raised $2 million yesterday off the ruling.

That's all well and good, but as the Post's Ezra Klein pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we're less than five months from Election Day and the presumptive Republican nominee still has not articulated a specific health care policy. That's a remarkable thing, particularly when you consider that at this point in the 2008 election cycle, then-candidate Barack Obama's detailed health care proposal had been a matter of public record for more than a year.

There seems to be such urgency to game out whether Romney and the GOP will benefit from the Supreme Court's ruling that no one really seems too concerned that Romney hasn't really offered anything to replace it should he be elected. Indeed, Cillizza's piece is just one of three articles in the Washington Post today about Republican enthusiasm over the health care decision.

Karen Tumulty reported this morning: “If conservatives needed any more motivation to unseat President Obama, they got it Thursday from the Supreme Court, which provided fresh political opportunities for Mitt Romney even as it handed the president a legal victory.” Tumulty's article notes that “Romney has promised to replace [Obama's health care law] with a system in which states can tailor their own programs,” but that's about as far as the discussion of Romney's vision goes.

The lede to Dan Balz's piece this morning reads: “President Obama won a major legal victory on Thursday. The question now is whether Mitt Romney and the Republicans can translate the divided Supreme Court's decision on the health-care law into a political victory in November.” Balz observed that “Obama and Romney are offering a choice between the starkly different philosophies and sharply contrasting policy paths,” which is true enough, except that the contrast begins and ends with philosophy owing to the lack of detail on the Republican side.

Balz characterized the ruling as a moment of clarity for voters. Maybe it should be for journalists as well: instead of figuring out the ways Romney can benefit from Obama's health care policy, perhaps ask when Romney will articulate a policy of his own. We'd be better off knowing how Romney would govern than guessing at how he'd win.