What Congress should hear during recess

So our lawmakers, exhausted from weeks of bickering, are headed home for their annual August recess to take the country’s pulse at town meetings, constituent picnics and county fairs. What should we tell them?

They’re probably not expecting to hear, "Guys, you are doing a great job." They will not be surprised.

They are expecting to hear, "Hands off our health care." And, "When are you going to do something about our rotten health care system?" Again, they will not be startled.

Democrats are going home to try to gin up support for what they think the people want. Republicans are going home to help organize an Aug. 22 nationwide "Recess Rally" to build momentum from the recent tea party protests against "Obamacare."

The problem is that nobody really knows what "Obamacare" is. President Obama has not spelled out what he would sign into law. (What he wants is impossible: He wants to cover 47 million uninsured Americans, control rising health care costs, balance the budget, avoid raising taxes on the middle-class, let everyone decide their doctor and hospital and make sure everybody gets the best care possible.)

Every Democrat seems to have a different idea of what constitutes health care "reform." Without their own proposal to rally around, Republicans seem united in their antipathy toward whatever plan is eventually accepted by Democrats.

Three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are hoping that they can come up with a bipartisan plan. Their goal is to have a plan costing no more than $900 billion over ten years that would cover more than nine out of ten Americans. But it would not be a government plan, many taxpayers would have to pay for employer-paid plans and Medicaid costs would rise. Their challenge is to have a plan by Sept. 15, which seems nice but unlikely.

Some Democrats are muttering darkly about pushing something — anything — through Congress without Republican votes. That would be a bad political mistake for them — whatever passes, if anything, will take years to put into place and will cause immense, painful disruption. Passing something for the sake of passage is a ticket to GOP resurgence, which is why many Republicans are stoking carefully planned, if nonsensical, public hysteria over "socialistic medicine."

On the other hand, if nothing happens after all the hoopla and if three years from now we still have millions of Americans without access to health insurance and skyrocketing health care costs bankrupting more small firms and families, Obama will get the blame.

The bottom line is that we all are going to have to pay more for health care. More than likely, we will have to pay taxes on employer-provided health insurance. The health care delivery system will change and become even more inconvenient and more giant health-care conglomerates will emerge. There will be even more rationing — more and more operations and procedures will simply not be available to everyone who needs them.

Here’s betting the U.S. health care system in 10 years will be different from what it is today, but with ever-higher costs and just as many problems.

So, back to those conversations we will be having with our representatives and senators over pig weigh-ins and ice cream and barbecue this month.

Let’s tell them, without shrieking, we as individuals are willing to pay more for health care if we can insure more people, get rid of barriers to coverage with pre-existing conditions and cut the ridiculous costs, such as $10 hospital aspirins and hundred-dollar crutches and duplicative X-rays and tests.

Let’s tell them, without swearing, that we want Republicans and Democrats to stop being demagogues and figure this thing out with compromises on both sides.

Let’s tell them, without yelling, that we want them to go back to Washington in September and do the best they can with the limited resources we now have to admit we have as a country.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.)