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Yesterday, with little fanfare, Republicans finally introduced legislation putting down on paper exactly what they think health care reform should look like.

The GOP's "Empower Patients First Act," sponsored by Republican House Study Committee Chairman Tom Price, is a $700 billion giveaway to the health insurance industry and its introduction creates a huge opening for the White House and congressional Democrats in the health reform debate. It has three main elements:

  1. Health insurance deregulation. The bill would deregulate the insurance market, dismantling state-level consumer protections and allowing insurance giants to sell their plans nationwide without fear of oversight. (Edit, 9:41AM: The problem here is that the GOP plan creates an unregulated national market, unlike the Democratic proposal for a national insurance exchange, which would create a national market, but with consumer protections.)
  1. Subsidizing private health insurance. The bill would give private health insurance subsidies to lower-income individuals and families. This sounds good at first, but subsidies in the absence of other reforms will simply increase the cost of health insurance for everybody else, leading to another inflationary spiral in health care.
  1. No comprehensive plan to pay for plan. In order to fund subsidies, the bill calls for a 1% annual cut in Federal discretionary spending each year for the next decade, yielding about $120 billion. Although this would result in major across-the-board cuts in federal spending, it still leaves nearly $600 billion unfunded. Republicans say they can find "efficiencies" in the health care system to cover that $600 billion shortfall, including malpractice reform, but fail to offer specifics, suggesting the legislation would dramatically increase the deficit.

In sum, the Republican health bill would be a disaster for ordinary Americans, but it's the health insurance industry's dream. It slashes consumer-protection regulations, it increases health care costs by subsidizing private insurance while simultaneously deregulating it, and it would create another explosion of federal debt.

Needless to say, the GOP legislation also provides the Obama Administration with a golden opportunity to turn the narrative about health care reform on its head. After spending weeks on the receiving end of Republican attacks, the White House finally has a stationary target upon which they can return fire.

Understandably, the White House may not want to send President Obama out there to attack Republicans, but that's okay. Vice President Biden can deliver the message instead.

Imagine if early next week the vice president delivered a major speech blistering the Republican health care reform plan, exposing it as a huge giveaway to the private insurance industry at the expense of ordinary Americans.

Republicans would find themselves playing defense, trying to make the case that they hadn't proposed giving away the store to private insurance companies when in fact, they obviously have.

For some reason, even though the public isn't buying it, Republicans have managed to maintain the appearance that they are winning the debate on health reform. What better way to reboot the narrative than to knock GOPers flat on their feet by forcing them to defend their own legislative proposal?

It's true that the House will be in recess next week, but that doesn't mean cable tv, newspapers, or online media are shutting down. In fact, political reporters will be hungry for a good story. Why not give it to them?

This week, Republicans made a big strategic mistake by giving Democrats a juicy target to attack during the August recess. Next week, they should start paying the price.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 09:12 AM PDT.

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