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History Calls Mitch McConnell’s Bluff

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. President Donald Trump blasted congressional Democrats and "a few Republicans" over the collapse of the GOP effort to rewrite the Obama health care law. McConnell proposed a vote on a backup plan simply repealing the statute, but that idea was on the brink of rejection, too. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. President Donald Trump blasted congressional Democrats and "a few Republicans" over the collapse of the GOP effort to rewrite the Obama health care law. McConnell proposed a vote on a backup plan simply repealing the statute, but that idea was on the brink of rejection, too. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

On Monday night, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was rudely awakened from his endless fever dream of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when it became clear the GOP bill intended to replace Obamacare lacked the votes to pass.

McConnell is now eager to force his colleagues to vote on repealing the ACA altogether, a measure that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would result in 32 million Americans losing their coverage, and premiums doubling. So we have that to look forward to.

McConnell’s replacement bill, like the legislation passed earlier by the House, was a tax cut for wealthy people, paid for by yanking health care away from less wealthy people.

Here’s a really simple graph that shows how the math worked in the House bill. Basically, the top 400 highest-income households in America would get $33 billion in tax relief, by cutting Medicaid expansion in Alaska, Arkansas, Nevada and West Virginia.

But a funny happened once Obamacare became the law of the land: it actually worked.

Everybody who thinks handing the 400 richest families in America $33 billion is more important than providing medical care to poor people who get sick, please raise your hands. And keep them up. Because you’re being robbed.

But to be fair, the robbery began long ago, when it became apparent that a “free market” approach to health care was an economic and ethical disaster. (For additional details on this, please check out Jonathon Cohn’s depressing but vital book, “Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis — And the People Who Paid the Price.”)

There was a time, believe it or not, when Republicans in Congress recognized that private health care system in this country was too expensive, and that the government should play a role in reducing those costs.

In 1993, Republicans actually proposed a bill, called Health Equity and Access Reform Today, with many of the provisions that would eventually be in Obamacare, including an individual mandate, a ban on denying insurance coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, the creation of purchasing pools and vouchers to help the poor afford insurance.

But by the time Obama came along, the GOP had turned away from the idea that government could help fix the system.

Rather than working with Obama and other Democrats on the ACA, they called the bill a “government takeover” of health care system and made up imaginary “death panels” to scare their credulous constituents.

But a funny happened once Obamacare became the law of the land: it actually worked. Insurance became more affordable. Medicaid expansion provided coverage for millions. Despite all the propaganda used to smear the law, the ACA is now more popular than ever.

The Republicans have struggled to replace Obamacare because they’re not really interested in trying to improve health care. On the contrary, they’re doing all they can to sabotage the law, in ways that will hurt their own constituents the most.

It’s not enough just to win. You also have to govern.

For years, McConnell and his colleagues treated Obamacare as a tribal talking point, a sure way to whip up their base and win elections. But sooner or later, that kind of cynical power mongering catches up with you. It’s not enough just to win. You also have to govern.

In other words, history finally called the McConnell’s bluff. And when he showed his cards, the results were pathetic: a zombie bill harmed millions and sowed chaos in our health care system. Both the House and Senate bills were reviled, even by their own partisans.

GOP voters may be aggrieved, distracted, and hyper-partisan, but they’re not fools. If their leaders can’t pass sensible legislation to improve their lives, they should start looking elsewhere, for candidates who can.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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