The Republican National Committee is complaining that ABC News, by hosting a prime-time White House town hall meeting, is turning itself over to "a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda" on health care," according to a letter published on the Drudge Report. ABC insists, "The president will answer questions offered by audience members selected by ABC News who have divergent opinions in this historic debate, as well as some submitted via ABCNews.com."
If the Republicans are betting on ABC anchor Charles Gibson to look like a lackey for President Obama, they may be disappointed. Back during the presidential campaign, Mr. Gibson won praise from the New York Sun for challenging Mr. Obama's ideas about increasing the capital gains tax.
The problem the Republicans have on health care is that during the Bush administration, the total government share of health care spending in America grew to 45.3% in 2007 (the most recent year for which data (pdf) are available from the federal govermment's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), from 42.7% during 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration. Total federal, state, and local government health spending in America grew to $1,036 billion in 2007 from $597 billion in 2000. During that period there was no major overhaul of medical malpractice law. So the Republicans just do not have a lot of credibility on the issue. When they say that what we really need to rein in medical costs is tort reform, they didn't accomplish it when they had control of the White House and Congress. When Republicans accuse the Democrats of wanting socialized medicine, the Republicans don't acknowledge that the government already controls more than 45% of the American health care spending and that the share increased during the most recent Republican presidency.
If the Republicans had a strong case to make on the substance on health care, they'd be out making it rather than complaining about the press coverage. The truth is, there is a lot to praise about the American health care system in terms of clinical excellence and innovation, both in the academic medical centers and in the private pharmaceutical companies and medical-device makers. There is also a lot to complain about, including the expense, the forms and the red tape, and outcomes that are sometimes botched because of everything from handwritten prescriptions to hospital-borne infections. If anything, people's complaints about the health care system in America -- which, again, is already at least 45% government-paid -- are a caution about whether it is such a great idea to inject big portions of government ownership into other sectors of the economy, such as banking or automaking.