Dying on a cross of strict ideology

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Partisans can’t solve problems because problem-solving is not their real goal.

FIRST, FOR ALL THOSE who have been hearing about health care projections from the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, let’s define what that agency is, from its website at cbo.gov.

Created in bipartisan fashion in 1975, “CBO has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the congressional budget process. ... CBO is strictly nonpartisan; conducts objective, impartial analysis; and hires its employees solely on the basis of professional competence without regard to political affiliation. CBO does not make policy recommendations. ...”

In other words, CBO more often than not is a major annoyance to whichever party is in control at a given time. Its numbers-crunchers do not answer to the prevailing power base in Congress and tend to strip away the spin from ideological arguments.

THEN AGAIN, AS YOGI BERRA was quoted saying, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Projections are just that — predictions about the future, based on certain assumptions. Experienced numbers-crunchers may make the best predictions possible, taking into account known facts and likely outcomes, but predictions by nature are subject to revision as conditions change — and, sometimes, wild swings can occur.

So there is room for Republicans in Congress to criticize CBO projections showing dismal outcomes for real people under the GOP plan to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a less generous program. CBO says 14 million fewer people would have insurance coverage in the first year after passage of the Republican plan, and that 24 million would lose coverage over the next decade.

Supporters of the Republican plan say CBO has been wrong before and is wrong this time. It’s a safe bet the CBO numbers would not turn out to be exact. Taking that as a given, the number of people who lose insurance may be smaller. Then again, it could be larger.

After all, Republican estimates are just as subject to the Yogi Berra maxim as those coming from CBO.

THIS MUCH IS CERTAIN: The nut of today’s arguments over Obamacare and what comes next is the same as it was when a Democrat-controlled Congress passed the initial legislation early on in President Obama’s first term.

The left sees people struggling to get care without health insurance and wants government to assure they have coverage, while handing the bill for it all to the better-off in the economy.

The right believes in the market and individual responsibility and that people ought to earn what they get, and that government shouldn’t be taking away what successful people have made in order to redistribute it to others.

In a sense, it’s always about ideology — and money, or, more precisely, who gets what and who gets the bill, almost always is at the heart of ideology.

The argument has been raging in America all the way back to the beginning, and the philosophical split between Jefferson and Hamilton. Jefferson’s thinking championed the common people, while Hamilton favored markets and money. As that argument echoed over time, it has been said Americans idealize living in Jefferson’s America all the while they really live in Hamilton’s.

HERE’S OUR TAKE. The teeth-grinding, wild-eyed partisan ideologues of the left and right who righteously insist their side is 100 percent correct and the other side is 100 percent incorrect, all the time, on every issue, are the problem, not the solution. The notion that one side or the other — call it the Jeffersonian or the Hamiltonian — will be victorious, soundly defeating the other for all time, is nonsensical.

Because, if that ever does happen, whichever side might achieve it, that would mean American democracy has been replaced by authoritarianism, where dissent is crushed by any means necessary.

The current moment and debate over Obamacare and its alternative — call it Ryancare, or Trumpcare — illustrates the point. The Democrat plan over time has accomplished some good things and fouled up others. The Republican alternative, as CBO points out, would accomplish some things — preserving certain levels of care, reducing the federal deficit by $337 billion over a decade — and foul up others, like causing uninsured rates to rise again.

Reason dictates the two parties ought to roll up their sleeves and work together toward common ground. Washington reality prevents that, because each side not only wants decisive wins but craves decisive losses for the other.

THIS IS NOT a problem without a solution. Other countries, the world over, have found common ground on health care. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes, not so well. But the ability to work together at least creates hope.

In our view, America is quickly coming toward a crossroads. The past, represented by the constant partisan feuding, has created a model that simply does not work. The future, the way forward, depends on whether Americans can reject the hidebound ways of the political parties and the ideologues driving the debates.

Hope, we believe, resides with independents — a search for a third way, more about making things work than battling for philosophical supremacy.

Otherwise, expect more of the same, as illustrated by the current debate. Are we really better off to replace one failing program with another program destined to fail?

America can do better. Americans deserve better.

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