THE CAPITULATION of six frightened, feeble, supine Republican senators on the so-called crime bill does not bode well for the debate over health care legislation. It suggests that some Republicans are still playing by rules invented by and for Democrats. If those rules are followed on health, we will get some kind of reform bill -- and that will be terrible for the country and politically damaging for Republicans as well.
The rules that were followed on the crime bill are as follows: The Democrats propose a huge federal spending program to address a problem that ought not to be handled by the federal government in the first place. The Republicans complain about the cost. The Democrats accuse the Republicans of being "anti-elderly" or "anti-children." Republicans stammer in response. The Democrats make some minor adjustments to the act (like cutting $3 billion from the $33 billion crime bill), and the Republicans vote for it.
That's how Republicans lose the high ground. The country is weary of big-government liberalism. What is often described as disgust with President Clinton personally is really much broader. Yet why should voters elect Republicans to change the system if Republicans are creatures of the system?
If Republicans don't know how to respond to Democratic taunts about being "anti-children" or whatever, here are some suggestions: 1) Demand an accounting of how the already existing federal programs addressing the problem (violence, lack immunizations, poverty) are doing. How is the money being spent? Has the problem been alleviated? 2) Study the Democrats' bill. How many of the provisions are really related to the problem? How much is pork? 3) Ask what local, civic or private groups or associations will be displaced by the involvement of the federal government. 4) Ask what the creation of another federal program may do to the souls of the people who receive the money.
No. 4 is the most important. Everyone agrees that there is a moral morass in this country, but not everyone agrees that government caused it. Some blame popular entertainment, or the abdication of the churches, or the fecklessness of the elites, and they are right. But those culprits are difficult to reform. It is possible, however, to reverse the government policies that encourage and promote sloth and cheating.
An example? In 1974, the Democrat-dominated Congress passed the Supplementary Security Income program. It was designed to provide "help" (i.e. cash) to low-income people who were blind, elderly or disabled. But guess who turns up among the "disabled"? Drug addicts and alcohol abusers. Those are legitimate disabilities according to the law, and sufferers can collect.
Did you ever hear of a federal program being discontinued because it failed? Have you ever heard of one being curtailed due to unforeseen or unintended consequences? Those are the kinds of questions Republicans would put to Democrats -- if they had the courage.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.