At the Saline County TEA Party meeting last week, Rep. Andy Mayberry told his constituents that the struggle over the private option made him feel like he was being forced to jump out of the third story of a burning building:
There’s no way, if I just stand there, that I’m going to survive. I’m gonna burn. There’s a window over here that I can choose to jump out of and I might die in that fall. I know I’m going to die if I stay there and don’t do anything. But I might just survive that jumping out the window and I might land on my feet and I might just have a few cuts and scratches and come out of it okay.
This mirrors some of the rhetoric we have heard from the leading proponents of the “private” option. “There are no good options,” they told us. In fact, Senator David Sanders told the public that he had to choose between “three horrible options,” and that he has “consistently said there are three bad options.”
This is puzzling. If the “private” option was really just a desperate leap from a burning building, why did the architects of the bill parade themselves in front of the media for the signing ceremony and take honorary signing pens from the governor? Are they so proud of jumping out of a burning building that they want to be pictured with the politician who, a few weeks previously, had informed them that getting burnt was a no-brainer? If legislators who crafted a horrible option are proud of their work, is it because it is slightly less bad (but still horrible)? It is unusual to commemorate disasters.
Several comments from Rep. Charlie Collins underscore the tension between these warring messages: Collins recently explained that the private option will “replace Obamacare,” and is a “conservative solution.” Such a statement is, of course, not quite as jaw-dropping as Senator Jeremy Hutchinson’s invocation, a week ago, of Reagan and Goldwater in defense of the private option. Have these legislators talked to Senator Sanders or Representative Mayberry about the extraordinary conservative reforms they supposedly voted for? I think it’s fair to say they have a lot to talk about. Maybe Sanders can show them his shiny new pen.
In short, there is some disagreement between the supporters of the private option about just how praiseworthy this plan is. And I’ll tell you my opinion why. I think that the private option was rushed through passage near the end of the session, despite the counsel of several conservative legislators, and that its proponents decided to shrug off the warning signs they received from other conservatives in the Capitol about what a terrible idea Medicaid expansion is. And now that Republican legislators are realizing that it wasn’t just a few extremists who held these concerns, they’re backpedaling desperately and trying to figure out how to redefine the unattractive product that they have laid at the feet of their constituents. Unfortunately, the urge to disavow and recharacterize one’s own past conduct occasionally forces politicians to say pretty weird things.