Everyone is talking about health care reform this week.
But when Thursday’s White House summit involving President Obama and Democratic and Republican leaders from the Congress is finished, it is not like Washington will go all bipartisan on this issue.
Indeed, as the Reuters news service notes quite aptly: "Republicans in Congress have remained staunchly united against Democratic plans for a sweeping healthcare revamp and are expected to remain so after a nationally televised ‘summit’ with Obama and other leading Democrats on Thursday."
But don’t think Democrats and Republicans can’t work together.
Indeed, a third of the Republican caucus in the Senate–led by newly-elected Massachusetts Senator Scott "41" Brown–just voted for the Democratic jobs bill.
The measure, which was rejected by Senate Republican leaders, passed by a 70-28 margin. Along with 55 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, 13 Republican senators voted for legislation crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
In addition to Brown, Republican backers of the bill ranged from hard-care conservatives (like James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Richard Burr of North Carolina) to moderates (like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine) to senators from state’s that have been hard hit by the recession (like Kit Bond of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio).
What got Republicans from all these differing ideological camps so excited?
The prospect of spending billions of federal tax dollars.
Indeed, as Washington’s The Hill newspaper explained: "The (Senate) bill included four components: a $13 billion tax credit for employers who hire new workers; greater flexibility of businesses to write off capital expenditures; $2 billion in Build America Bonds to lower municipal borrowing costs; and a $20 billion transfer in highway funding, which did not require a spending offset and counts toward the overall cost of the legislation."
So what’s happening here? How come Republicans who can’t imagine spending money on health care reform are more than willing to spend it on job creation?
The answer is that, for all GOP talk about how Washington has to stop spending, for all the talk about how there is no money to do anything, for all the talk about how government can’t do anything and shouldn’t do anything, the reality is that a lot of Republicans in Washington are more than ready to spend money, are more than capable of finding money to spend and are more than happy to make the case that spending it will do good for workers, families, communities, states and the nation.
Republicans aren’t against spending.
They’re just against spending to reform a broken health-care system.
They’re not worried about allocating federal tax dollars to get things done.
They’re worried about allocating federal tax dollars in ways that might not meet with the approval of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
Make no mistake: The Senate Republicans who voted for the jobs bill were right to do so. This country, with its roughly 10 percent official unemployment rate and 17 percent real joblessness, needs to make massive investments in job creation and job retention. Reid says the Senate bill is merely "a small step forward." The majority leader adds, "We need to do more and we understand that."
He’s right about that.
And a lot of Republicans know it. They’ll continue to vote with Reid for spending on jobs because they understand that this spending needed and because they know the money is there to do it. But there’s something else going on: They can back measures like Reid’s bill because the GOP senators know there is not much of a special-interest lobby opposing job creation.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of insurance and pharmaceutical interests that are prepared to block meaningful health-care reform — or that are determined to warp it in a manner that serves their bottom lines.
So just remember: There’s plenty of federal money available, and there are plenty of Republicans who are willing to spend it. They’ll spend it on wars. They’ll spend it on bank bailouts. They’ll even spend some of it on jobs. They just haven’t gotten the go ahead from the lobbyists and campaign donors with which they have allied themselves to spend it on meaningful health-care reform.