The oddest thing about the health care debate, at least in my view, is that Republicans basically did not engage on the actual substance of the bill. Lots of stuff about death panels, and lots of stuff about procedure, lots of stuff about backroom deals (most of which will be gone after reconciliation) but shockingly little about the individual mandate -- or, as Tim Noah points out, about the actual taxes that really are being raised for this. The only real substantive complaint they highlighted was Medicare, where they argued against their own position.
Now that the bill will pass (and I write this just after the Stupak press conference), the question becomes: what will the GOP run on this fall? Most of their arguments are basically knocked out by the passage of the bill; no one will care any more about reconciliation (well, no one cared about it in the first place, but it's even less useful as time goes on). They could continue to complaint about spending and deficits (although not, I don't think, about taxes going into effect right away but not benefits, since that won't make much sense to most voters who don't see it happening). Death panels and rationing and socialism and the rest? I don't think so.
Here's what they will do: Republicans will now run against the current health care system. Just as they blamed Barack Obama for every job lost in February and March 2009, they're now going to blame Democrats for every insurance rate increase, every medical error, every complex insurance form, and basically anything that goes wrong with medical care or medical insurance, beginning March 22, 2010.
That's what Democrats should be prepared for. Against it, Democrats have the list of changes that go into effect right away, and the sensible arguments that the various problems in the system weren't caused by a bill that is only beginning to go into effect. I don't know who wins that argument -- and, of course, the effects of winning and losing that argument are only marginally important to 2010 and 2012 elections -- but that's the argument we're about to hear. Bad things happen in health care all the time; I'll be very, very surprised if we don't hear conservatives blaming one of those bad things on the brand-new law some time before Easter.
Ready for it?