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Can Tea Cure Health Care?
May 16, 2012
My Tea Party neighbors here in Spearfish hosted a Legislative candidates forum last night. In a strange combination of masochism and commitment to educating the public (hmm... redundant?), I grabbed my computer and camera and biked down to Hudson Hall to record the show.
No fireworks ensued. None of the Northern Hills Patriots stood up to raise real town-hall Cain the way Tea Partiers did at town halls in the summer of 2009, when conservatives were freaking out over looming federal health care reform.
The local Tea Partiers are still bent all out of shape over the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In the response to the very first question, candidate Gary Coe from Lead expressed his displeasure with the two bills the South Dakota Legislature passed last year to comply what he and every Tea Partier in the audience calls ObamaCare.
Incumbent Sen. Tom Nelson of Lead and Rep. Fred Romkema of Spearfish, along with challenger John Teupel of Spearfish, tried to defuse the anger about South Dakota's ObamaCare legislation. They said 2011's Senate Bills 38 and 43 simply brought us into minimal compliance with federal law so we could keep receiving funding for necessary health care programs.
But the most useful answer came from Rep. Romkema. Echoing a response he offered on health care policy at a January cracker barrel in Spearfish, Rep. Romkema said that even if ObamaCare is bad, we face a crisis that requires fixing. He said we spend far more per capita on health care than any other nation, but we don't enjoy notably better life expectancy or infant mortality (all true!). He cited a Russian expert who notes that the Soviet Union collapsed when the military budget reached 20% of GDP. This expert theorizes that when any sector of a nation's economy starts gobbling up 20% of GDP, collapse is imminent.
In 2010, U.S. spending on health care was 17.9% of GDP. If ObamaCare doesn't bring that spending ratio down, or if the Supreme Court overturns it or Tea-minded legislators repeal the law before it gets the chance to bend that curve, we'll need some other solution to make sure the majority of Americans aren't one illness or injury away from medical bankruptcy.
Rep. Romkema says he doesn't know what that solution is. But he's asking everyone who says we must repeal ObamaCare to tell him their solution.
Last night, I heard no such solution from my Tea Party neighbors. Just as in the town halls of 2009, the Tea Party finds it easier to play to fears and easy slogans—Stop Obama! Stop socialism!—than to craft serious policy alternatives.
The local Tea has some strong flavor, but I'm not convinced it will cure what ails us.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.