Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican who heads the House GOP Study Committee, came to President Obama's Sept. 9 speech to a joint session of Congress itching to make a point. Price, who also happens to be an orthopedic surgeon, has often heard the president accuse Republicans of criticizing Democratic healthcare proposals while having no plans of their own. He expected Obama to do the same Wednesday night.
"We knew the president would at some point say something like, 'And the other side has no ideas,'" Price says. So Price and his Republican colleagues brought with them copies of the more than 30 healthcare-reform bills they have proposed in the House this year.
Obama didn't directly accuse Republicans of not having a plan. But he did say he would welcome "serious" healthcare proposals. "My door is always open," Obama said.
That's when Price held up the sheaf of papers he was carrying -- a copy of HR 3400, the Empowering Patients First Act, which Price and the Republican Study Committee proposed in July. Other GOP lawmakers held up their own bills. Some raised a list of all the healthcare bills -- there are more than 30 -- proposed by members of the Study Committee.
Why use the props? "To say in a quiet and respectful way, 'Here are our ideas,' " Price says. "To say to the president, 'You're not being honest with the American people when you say that there haven't been ideas put forward, and that you've listened to them, because you haven't.'"
The small Republican protest got a bit of coverage, although it was overshadowed by the hubbub over GOP Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst during the president's speech. But the larger problem remains. Republicans have authored a number of healthcare bills -- serious legislation addressing portability, pre-existing conditions, cost and other issues that trouble American consumers -- and hardly anyone has noticed.
Republicans don't really blame Nancy Pelosi. The speaker is as partisan a Democrat as they come, and no one is surprised that she has used her power to stifle Republican efforts.
But they do blame the Obama administration. "The White House, in spite of saying they look forward to meeting with anyone who wants to solve these challenges, has rebuffed us at every turn," Price says.
They also blame the media. Somewhere in this extended healthcare debate, Republicans believe, reporters might have noticed that there are real, substantive GOP proposals out there. So far, though, it hasn't happened.
As this is written, a search of the LexisNexis database of newspapers, magazines, television programs and major blogs finds about 3,000 mentions of the major House Democratic bill, HR 3200, in the past six months. (Those are just the stories that refer to the bill by its House number; there have been thousands more stories referring generally to the Democratic legislation.) A similar search found 60 mentions of HR 3400, the Price bill.
Another Republican bill, HR 2520, the Patients' Choice Act, by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, received 12 mentions in the same time period. And two other bills, HR 3217 and HR 3218, the Health Care Choice Act and the Improving Health Care for All Americans Act, by Rep. John Shadegg, together received 20 mentions.
The virtual embargo on reporting Republican legislation has allowed Democrats and their allies in the media to keep up the "Republicans have no plan" attack. Just hours after the president's speech, for example, the Democratic National Committee released a new commercial claiming that Republicans "refuse to offer a plan" to reform the healthcare system.
Just for the record, in case you want to check them out, these are the bills proposed, so far, by Price and his allies in the House: HR 77; HR 109; HR 198; HR 270; HR 321; HR 464; HR 502; HR 544; HR 917; HR 1086; HR 1118; HR 1441; HR 1458; HR 1468; HR 1658; HR 1891; HR 2520; HR 2607; HR 2692; HR 2784; HR 2785; HR 2786; HR 2787; HR 3141; HR 3217; HR 3218; HR 3356; HR 3372; HR 3400; HR 3438; HR 3454; and HR 3478.
"It's frustrating," Price says. But Republicans believe that in the end, the public won't buy the administration's line. "The American people are smarter than that," Price says. "They know there are alternatives out there. That's what August was all about."
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.