JACK SPENCER: Focusing on one thing can blur the larger issue
There's an amusing story that demonstrates how focusing too much on just one aspect of a situation sometimes obliterates one's view of the bigger picture.
Once there was a lonely magician who went to a pet shop seeking a companion.
“You're in luck,” the shop clerk told him. “We have a parrot for sale that is so smart he can carry on conversations. He'll keep you company. Just be careful what you teach the parrot in the first few weeks. Parrots are very intelligent, but they have one-track minds. Once the parrot locks in on what you want him to do, he'll never change.”
When the magician brought the parrot back to his apartment he discovered that the pet store clerk hadn’t exaggerated. The parrot was a great companion. It acted like a human being; carrying on conversations, both asking and answering questions.
From the start, the magician's favorite activity with the parrot took place as he practiced his magic tricks. Not only was the parrot fascinated by the magician’s tricks, he studied every move and repeatedly asked the magician to repeat each trick. For the magician, this was like having a built-in audience.
With the passage of time, the parrot would always figure out how each trick worked. This gave the magician an incentive to keep finding new tricks to present to his parrot. As a result, the magician's act steadily improved.
Then the magician was hired as an entertainer by a Caribbean cruise company. Obviously, he couldn't leave the parrot in his apartment for weeks on end, so he took the parrot with him.
On the first night out from port, just as the magician was finishing his performance, the cruise ship struck something. Soon it became clear that the ship was sinking. The passengers ran this way and that, grabbing life preservers and boarding life boats.
Because he was an employee of the cruise company, the magician had to wait and make sure all of the passengers were safe. As things turned out, the ship sank before he could climb into a life boat. He ended up in the water, disparately clinging to a piece of floating debris.
The next morning the magician was delighted when he spotted his parrot circling in the air overhead. After a few minutes the parrot landed next to him on the piece of debris. With difficulty, the magician managed to scribble a note on a mostly dry piece of paper that had been in his pocket. Using a shoelace, he carefully tied the note to the parrot's leg.
“Fly to shore,” he commanded. But the parrot just sat silently on the piece of debris, twisting his head back and forth and staring at the magician. This went on for several hours.
“Fly to shore. Please fly to shore,” the magician said over and over again, until he'd almost lost his voice.
“Come on you stupid bird,” the exasperated magician finally said in desperation. “Why won't you do as I ask?
At last the parrot spoke: “OK, I give up,” It said. “How did you make the ship disappear?”
This past week the Michigan House Republicans unveiled what they called their plan to reform Medicaid. In reality, it represents the terms the federal Government would have to meet to get the House GOP to pass Medicaid expansion.
President Barack Obama's administration wants states to expand Medicaid, which in turn will aid in the implementation of Obamacare. In fact, it wants the expansion badly enough to offer literally billions of dollars to the states that do so.
The House Republican plan includes reforms to Medicaid such as co-pays, health savings accounts and a 48-month cap on coverage for able-bodied adults without children. It is worth noting that coverage for this group (able-bodied adults) is what the Medicaid expansion is primarily all about.
In addition, the plan includes statutory language that would prevent the expansion from happening if the federal government fails to agree to the reforms. The plan also includes statutory language that would undo the expansion if the federal government were to renege on any aspect of the deal.
As was the case with the parrot in the above story, various reactions to the House Republican plan show what each entity involved is focused on.
For GOP lawmakers, doing anything that appears to accommodate Obamacare is potentially a political poison pill. That’s because their conservative base sees Medicaid expansion as giving up the battle to force the federal government to repeal, or at least change, Obamacare.
This explains what conservatives are focused on. They object to the very existence of the plan. From their perspective it is a dangerous to even stick a toe in the Obamacare tent.
Meanwhile, much of the news media focused on the 48-month cap and the fact that expansion would provide Medicaid coverage to about 300,000 residents. This seems to have been a direct reflection of the reaction Democrats had to the plan. To the liberal mind the focus is on coverage. In fact, that was the impetus behind Obamacare to begin with.
This fixation on coverage is a consistent theme with American liberals. Never mind that studies have shown that, to able-bodies adults, Medicaid coverage has little advantage over no coverage at all. In fact, it can actually be worse than having no coverage.
One is reminded of a judge who once spoke of his discomfort with issuing personal protection orders (PPOs) to women who feared assault by former boyfriends or stalkers. He feared the women would get a false sense of security from the PPOs, which are ultimately no more than a couple of pieces of paper. Of course, these pieces of paper can't actually stop an attack.
Many liberals tend to take great comfort in having something on paper, even when its actual value might be little more than a mirage.
Another response to the House Republican plan within the news media was one of dismay. Some reporters were taken aback by the audacity of the Republicans for daring to put conditions on Medicaid expansion when the federal government is offering billions of dollars to the state.
This of course, reflects a focus on short-term money and getting this year's state budget completed. The thought that there might be fishhooks buried in the tantalizing fillet mignon never seems to enter their mind.
On the face of it, the House Republican plan is basically an offer that the Obama administration would almost surely refuse. The real question about the plan is whether it is essentially a creative statement of defiance to what's going on in Washington, D.C. If, and only if, House Republicans stick to their guns and refuse to budge on the major points in the plan, that's what it will likely end up being.
Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.