As part of their multiprong strategy to shape the course of the health care debate, Republicans took to heart the classic 1970s song lyric, “doctor, doctor, give me the news.—
Specifically, Dr. Tom Price (Ga.) and Dr. Charles Boustany (La.) emerged as two authoritative voices on health care reform in the Republican Conference this fall.
Price is a former orthopedic surgeon who was tapped this year to serve as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. He used his unique background to discuss the real world effects of proposed health care legislation while preaching the importance of fiscal discipline.
At the RSC — which counts nearly two-thirds of House Republicans as Members — Price led the effort to craft one of the GOP’s alternative health care proposals.
He also helped organize the public relations campaign that kept conservatives engaged in the health care fight through the final days of the House debate and vote.
Just days before the final vote, the RSC helped organize a “House Call— on Washington — a rally on the steps of the Capitol. The group has been a cheerleader for the “tea party— movement. In October, Price introduced a resolution honoring the Taxpayer March on Washington on Sept. 12.
Boustany, who worked as a cardiac surgeon for more than 20 years before coming to Congress, was largely unknown on the national scene until September, when Republican leadership tapped him to give the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress. Who better to be the face of the GOP on health care, Republican leaders believed, than a man with decades of experience navigating the health care minefield as part of his daily routine?
The bulk of Boustany’s response was critical of Obama’s proposed reforms, but he also took time to mention areas where Republicans believe they can agree with Democrats on health care.
In the wake of that response, Boustany seized on an opening presented by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to explore the issue of common ground further.
He secured permission from leadership on both sides of the aisle to form a bipartisan group of lawmakers with fellow Ways and Means member Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and has emerged as a leader in the effort to find some bipartisan areas of agreement in the otherwise overly partisan world of health care reform.
Boustany eventually voted against the health care bill, but he emerged from the debate with a larger national profile and a reputation as a Member who is willing to work across the aisle.