Republican candidates’ debate: rhetoric galore but short on policy details

When I decided yesterday to watch the Republican candidates debate, I created a scorecard to use while I observed the two-hour event. I was interested particularly in exchanges related to public health topics, such as access to health care, and clean air and safe drinking water. Within minutes of first tuning in, I remembered how these multi-candidate debates are heavy on rhetoric, but light on policy details. I heard the participants harp on “ObamaCare,” and “burdensome regulations,” as well as make promises to “de-fund,” and “repeal,” but there were too few substantive points on public health issues; my scorecard was a failure.

Policy wonk Ezra Klein summarizes the debate in 14 words, including how Mr. Pawlenty stammered through a non-answer about why he called former Governor Romney’s healthcare reform package for Massachusetts: “Obamneycare.” Congresswoman Michele Bachman (R-MN) wins my award for proposing the most anti-public health policies.

The ideas she offered last night include:

“a full-scale repeal of ObamaCare” about which she added “as President, I will not rest until we repeal ObamaCare”;

*putting forward “the mother of all repeal bills” that would target “job-killing regulations.”

Ms. Bachman did not list any specific regulations that fit her “job-killing” category, but tried to pump up the crowd by recommending that the Environmental Protection Agency be renamed the “Job Killing Agency of America.”

On the flip side, Cong. Ron Paul (R-TX) scored a few points in my book for:

explaining that the current Medicare system is not sustainable. “If we don’t want to cut benefits,” he explained, we need to shift spending from “our military industrial complex,” and “corporate welfare,” and;

suggesting it’s time to bring home US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and step away from new military operations in Libya, Yemen and elsewhere.

For the record, there are plenty of topics espoused by Cong. Paul that I disagree, such as his opposition to civil rights law, and his belief that free markets will solve access to quality and affordable health care. But I hope he stays in the race. He’s the one candidate during these debates who offers thought-provoking ideas ripe for discussion—not for his colleagues on the stage, but for those of us watching at home.

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