I think that Ross Douthat is too hard on the Republican performance at the health care summit. The Republican were articulate and thoughful in criticizing the President's plan and offered regulatory changes that would have put downward pressure on health insurance premiums and might have taken a small step in the process of moving our health care market in a more consumer-driven direction. Helping to stop a situation from getting worse and limited but real suggestions for making things better isn't bad for the congressional leadership of a party that suffered to straight election defeats.
The Republicans didn't have a big plan and they probably shouldn't just yet. There are many ways of restructuring the health care market in a more consumer-driven direction. One is the Ryan plan of changing the tax code to shift most people to cheap, renewable, individually owned health insurance. Another is a system of forced savings and universal catastrophic government health insurance. Mitch Daniels seems to have gotten good results from a small-scale and voluntary version of such a plan. One could imagine a combination of federalizing Medicaid, voucherizing and reducing the rate of growth in the program and using the saving to expand public health services. All of these suggestions include complicated political and economic trade-offs and there is no reason why John Boehner and Mitch McConnell should have been able to get a consensus around any one of those approaches within the GOP caucus, and the summit was probably a bad time to spring them on the American people. If we are very lucky, we will seen an extended discussion about which of those approaches to adopt during the 2012 Repubican presidential primaries.
But for now, honor to the Republicans for their performance during the summit.