It's one of the biggest myths in Washington, a powerful idea that hangs around year in and year out no matter how hard we try to kill it. It's the claim that liberals offer ideas and conservatives merely oppose them.
Even the brightest conservatives can fall for it. "Republicans have to join the battle of ideas," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wrote recently in The Washington Post. Jindal went on to outline 10 conservative ideas for health care reform.
But he's incorrect to say conservatives have yet to "join" the battle of ideas. In fact, we've been mostly going at it unopposed.
Consider health care, the hot topic these days. Conservatives favor expanding competition by allowing insurance plans to compete across state lines. We favor policies to give individuals more control of their health spending. And we support ending federal tax breaks, so individuals can buy health insurance as they buy auto, life and homeowners insurance.
What's the liberal response? Create a massive new entitlement that would, eventually, lead to a single-payer system.
"We're looking at the possibility of universal health care by about 2010," New York Times columnist and economics professor Paul Krugman announced on the TV show "Democracy Now!" two years ago. Discussing the plans floated by then-presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Krugman added they, "are not single-payer, but they can evolve into single-payer," an outcome that would lead to something such as Medicare, which Krugman calls "the cheapest, most efficient plan."
"The fact is that, in recent years, Medicare administrative costs per beneficiary have substantially exceeded those costs for the private sector. This despite the fact that, as critics note, private insurance is subject to many expenses not incurred by Medicare," wrote industry expert Robert Book in a paper from The Heritage Foundation. "Moving millions of Americans from private insurance to a Medicare-like program will result in program administrative costs that are higher per person and higher, not lower, for the nation as a whole."
Another reason Medicare seems more efficient is that it doesn't spend much time or money cracking down on fraud. Instead, it just shells out for fraudulent claims it never determines to be fraudulent.
Harvard Professor Malcolm Sparrow estimates that more than 20 percent of Medicare and Medicaid spending may be wasted through fraud. And Medicaid's internal inspector admits the program has no way to track waste, fraud or abuse. No wonder Sparrow's book is titled, "License to Steal."
Medicare is already bankrupting states across the nation. So what's the big liberal idea of the week? Expand the program.
The Senate's proposed Baucus bill (which isn't really a bill, since the Finance Committee hasn't bothered to write it down) would supposedly provide health insurance to millions more Americans. But nearly half of them would simply be dumped into Medicare. That's not a solution; it's merely a way to create a new problem. "Nobody's going to put their state into bankruptcy or their education system in the tank" for Medicaid expansion, Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen told The Washington Post over the summer.
It's ironic that liberals, who claimed to worry that George W. Bush wanted to use anti-terrorist FISA legislation to listen to their phone calls (all of them) and read their e-mail (even the spam) are eager to have the government-run health care.
After all, if the liberal dream comes true and the federal government becomes the sole provider of health care, it will have an interest in virtually every aspect of our lives. Look no further than North Carolina, which recently announced it will punish state employees who don't take care of themselves.
"Tobacco use and poor nutrition and inactivity are the leading causes of preventable deaths in our state," Anne Rogers, director of integrated health management with the N.C. State Employees Health Plan, told the Raleigh News Observer. "We need a healthy workforce in this state. We're trying to encourage individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles." The state will "encourage" that by charging overweight individuals or those who smoke more for health insurance.
Once the government is in charge of health care almost everything you do -- what you eat, how fast you drive, whether you have a pet -- will be a federal concern. Denying care will be about the only way the government can hold down costs, so it'll look for any excuse to do so.
Is that the goal of the liberal "thinkers?" Or is this potential outcome merely a happy coincidence? One suspects liberals really have no idea.
Rich Tucker is a Senior Editor in Editorial Services for The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Townhall.com