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October 10, 2013 7:34 am

When Timmy punched Joey

Written by Don Amend

I once read about a mother who found herself breaking up a fight between her sons.

Seeking to get to the bottom of the problem, she asked Joey, the older of the two, why they were fighting.

“It all started when Timmy hit me back,” the boy responded.

My recall of that story, which, if memory serves, I found in Reader’s Digest, was triggered by Sen. Mike Enzi in a recent interview with the Tribune. In that interview, he, not surprisingly, blamed all the current problems, including the government shutdown that is in effect as I write this, on President Barack Obama.

Well, that’s not surprising, since that’s usually the position one political party takes when the other party has control of the presidency. That’s especially true when there is a big difference of opinion between the two parties on one issue or another. And this time, there is a big difference over the Affordable Care Act.

Well, I’m not so sure that “the blame” is so easily assigned. The senator obviously believes what he says when he says that President Obama always puts a “poison pill” in proposals that come to Congress, something that the Republicans can’t accept, and the senator is an honest and sincere man.

Still, I find it interesting that he would complain about such “poison pills” when that is exactly what his Republican colleagues in the House have been doing to the president when they want to defund the Affordable Care Act. That’s a pill Obama just can’t swallow.

So now we have a government shutdown, and both sides are playing a game of words common in politics, describing the other guy’s action as reprehensible, while doing the same thing yourself, but describing it somewhat differently. In this case, that’s calling what the other side is doing an obstinate refusal to compromise, but when our side is doing it, we say we’re  taking a stand on principle.

So who tossed the first punch in this battle? Well, it’s hard to tell at this point, because the controversies over health care, budget deficits, etc. have been going on as long as I’ve been alive, so they date back several presidents. The only difference now is that Congress and the president have been more than willing to hit each other back for a variety of reasons.

I’m not going to put the blame for this entirely on either party. I think the Obama administration could have done a better job of presenting and pushing health care reform through the Congress, and they didn’t work hard enough to involve the Republicans.

Their rhetoric during and after the 2008 campaign often dwelt on the idea that Republicans were engaged in a war on the poor and other groups, rhetoric which isn’t likely to invite a positive response from the people you attack. In addition, he hasn’t done a good job of defending some of the key provisions of the act.

On the other hand, Republicans did their own demonizing of the Democrats during the campaign, often in the form or personal attacks on the president’s citizenship, religion, and patriotism. When Obama was elected, their reaction bordered on hysteria and they pledged to stop anything the new administration proposed in an effort to take the country back for a hypothetical group called “real Americans.” They made it clear that they wanted the president to fail, so they wouldn’t work with him at all.

Most seriously, neither side has really treated the Affordable Care Act honestly. Democrats have exaggerated its benefits, while Republicans have looked for minutiae they could turn into “death panels” and other scary consequences.

One side has pointed to studies showing that the current health care system is spending too much money for too little benefit, and the new law would, in the long run, save money. The other side has pointed to studies indicating that the plan would increase costs drastically. In fact, there has been so much distortion, twisting of numbers and downright dishonesty in the discussion that it’s difficult to sort out the truth, especially since most of us aren’t equipped to think in terms of trillions of dollars.

In any case, it’s not surprising that neither side trusts the other. When Speaker John Boehner says all the Republicans want is a discussion, I don’t believe him.

His party is on record as wanting to destroy the Affordable Care Act, not just discuss it, so why should the president believe him either?

On the other hand, there are obviously parts of the act that bear discussion, cost being the chief among them. To doggedly defend the act in its entirety without recognizing what those discussable features are, as the administration is doing, is not a realistic way to resolve the issue.

As in so many such battles, then, I think both sides have a point. Clearly there has to be reform in how health care is bought and paid for, not only for those who are in need of medical attention — which is everybody at some point — but for those who deliver it. The Affordable Care Act, whatever its flaws may be, is a good place to start discussing it.

For that to happen though, both sides need to drop their “my way or the highway” attitude. They need to stop blaming each other and look at where they themselves may have caused the problem.

In short, although Timmy struck the first blow in that sibling battle, maybe something Joey did invited that punch. Both of them should think about that and find a way to stop the fisticuffs.

Who knows, both of them — not to mention their mother — might come out ahead in the end.

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