S-CHIP and the GOP Future

I saw three Republican comments this weekend that sum up the seriousness of the S-CHIP dilemma for the GOP.  All of them show how deeply the Bush Administration has damaged the party, and how it has given Democrats the high ground on issues that used to be Republican bread-and-butter.

The first was in Stuart Rothenberg's column, in which a "GOP insider" says:

If we had been talking about cutting spending and waste in government for years, we could oppose SCHIP. But now we are finally going to get religion on spending?

The significance of this observation goes far beyond S-CHIP.   Before the Bush Administration, Republicans used to be able to present themselves as a bulwark against excessive spending. 
Now, the Republican party is associated with spending of the kind that's never been seen in the history of this country.  In Iraq, we are paying mercenaries triple or quadruple what we pay soldiers, and we are employing more mercenaries there than we are military personnel.  At home, when Katrina hit, the panicked Bush administration simply passed out cash, with no controls and little hope that it would solve anyone's long-term problems.  As Ron Paul said during his Friday interview on the NewsHour:

People don't believe the government any more. They think the government is that group of people who take money from us and pass it out in places like New Orleans and accomplish nothing. [...]

Young people, especially, don't expect to get any Social Security. So conditions are just ripe for this, because we have an imminent bankruptcy coming on. And people are sensing this.

Paul's interview is worth watching in its entirety, because he is the only Republican candidate who acknowledges that the runaway deficit spending of the last 7 years is a legacy that will haunt this country for generations.   Paul also uses the term "corporatism" to describe the government's support of Halliburton and Blackwater in the guise of  "free markets".  Expect to hear that word frequently from the Democratic nominee for President, as well from Eric Massa, as the campaign progresses.

Ron Paul's views on the deficit would put him squarely in the mainstream of Republicans in years past.  While today's Republican party treats Paul like a crazy uncle,  the Democrats will run on a platform of fiscal responsibility.   It's beyond ironic that their platform will use much of the same principled, sane and conservative reasoning as Rep. Paul, without his talk of abolishing the Federal Reserve and going back to the gold standard.

The final Republican comment is Randy Kuhl's:  “The president has let the debate on health care down by not offering an alternative.”  Let's unpack that statement.

In the recent past, Republicans could usually make political hay by criticizing welfare programs.  Nixon's campaign rhetoric about "welfare queens" is perhaps the most memorable, but bashing welfare was a reliable Republican talking point for a couple of decades.   Those days are gone, due mainly to the Clinton administration's welfare reforms.  Those bi-partisan reforms taught the Democrats an important political lesson:  It's OK to say that welfare programs don't work, as long as you couple your critique with a positive reform agenda. 

The success of the Clinton-era welfare reforms showed that vast majority of Americans are unhappy with the way that welfare works, yet they believe that we have a responsibility to help the poor.   This large majority also believes that welfare should be "a hand up, not a hand out", and should focus on breaking the cycle of poverty. 

S-CHIP, for all its flaws, is not a mere handout.   Making sure that children have health care is an investment in ending poverty, because children who have a regular physician have a better chance to succeed in school.  And treating simple childhood ailments like ear infections and asthma before they become life-threatening (and expensive) emergencies saves us all money.   For these reasons, the current Republican strategy of attacking the parents as irresponsible is a non-starter, because the hope of S-CHIP is that it can help the children of the irresponsible become a little more responsible.

When Randy Kuhl said that Bush needs to present an alternative, he recognizes that Republicans have failed to propose any meaningful welfare reform.   The "welfare queen" rhetoric of the 70's and 80's won't cut it anymore, and the Bush Administration has failed Republicans by showing absolutely no leadership on this issue.

The S-CHIP debate shows just how much the last 7 years have cost Republicans, and these three comments show that quite a few Republicans understand that.   What's taken a few short years to undo may take the Republicans years to fix.  In the meantime, Randy Kuhl's loyalty to the Bush administration will continue to damage his hopes for a 2008 victory.