Life, and politics, can be complicated. But sometimes things really are as simple as they seem. And sometimes, clichés are true.
The cliché about Republicans is that they’re heartless and cold and don’t care about the weak and the poor and the defenseless. And today, in passing this abomination of a health-care act, Republicans in the House of Representatives proved that life is simple and the cliché is true.
But wait—they’re proving even more than that. Because the legislation they passed won’t merely hurt the weak and poor and defenseless. It’s going to hurt plenty of middle-class people, plenty of people they’d call good, normal Americans; people who voted for them.
But let’s start with the weak and the poor and the defenseless. Try this one on for size. The Times posted a great story Wednesday about one particular impact of the crippling Medicaid cuts, which would slice spending by 25 percent over 10 years. One victim: special education students.
You see, Medicaid pays for things like speech therapists, behavioral therapists, and certain types of equipment that physically handicapped children need. Physically. Handicapped. Children. Read it again.
States receive about $4 billion from Medicaid that they pass along to school districts. Under the Republican bill, states would no longer have to consider school districts to be eligible Medicaid providers. Poof. But hey, listen. It’s these damn kids’ fault, according to Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks. Why couldn’t they just live “the right way” and do the things they needed to do to “keep their bodies healthy”?
I could write 10,000 words on the draconian—no, outright cruel—features of this bill. But you can read that in a lot of places, from people like Jonathan Cohn of HuffPo and Matthew Fiedler of Brookings who are more expert than I. The summary is simple. If you have someone with mental health issues in your family, you’re going to lose. If you are old, or sick, or poor, you’re going to lose. And if you’re all three, look out. And on the main point, this alleged pre-existing conditions “fix” in the Upton amendment, it’s a joke. It waves $8 billion at $200 billion problem.
Oh, and let’s not forget this point. The bill is also a $1 trillion transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich, and it sets the table for more future tax-cutting.
But leaving the policy summaries to others, what I want to devote my little piece of real estate to is two points about this Republican Party, points that too many Americans still don’t know or won’t acknowledge.
First, it is now so consumed by slicing the world into Makers and Moochers that this divide dictates nearly every policy choice the party makes. This view of the world has animated conservative thought since forever, and sometimes conservatism has had a point and provided a useful counterbalance to liberalism’s more generous impulses.
But that last clause describes a Republican Party of 30 years ago. Today’s GOP has been completely overtaken by rage at the people Republicans feel aren’t pulling their weight. So much so that sick people are now basically seen as Moochers — it’s their fault for getting sick.
The Mo Brooks quote above is one example of this thinking, but there are numerous others, most famously from Speaker Ryan himself, who called it “the fatal conceit” of Obamacare that healthy people have to pay for sick people.
Fatal conceit?! That’s insurance!! Healthy people pay for sick people. Safe drivers’ premiums pay for the repair bills caused by unsafe drivers. Yes, everyone would be a safe driver in a Panglossian world, but everyone is not. Insurance recognizes this sad fact about la condition humaine. But to today’s Republicans, this basic concept and practice of society that has existed since the 14th century if not before is now part of some evil liberal plot to take from Makers and give to Moochers.
Second point: The Republicans have no respect for institutional norms that once upon a sweet old time restrained both parties from doing things like this. The rush to get this through with virtually no committee hearings is an enormous—and no-doubt precedent-setting—departure from norms. Obamacare, despite what Republicans said, underwent dozens of committee hearings. I think Ryancare had three, and those only because committees that had jurisdiction over different parts of the bill had to hold those to move it to the floor. The hearings were brief, and the legislation advanced along party lines untouched.
Then there’s this business of rushing to do this before the Congressional Budget Office could look it over and score it. You’ll recall the March fiasco: CBO said that bill would mean 24 million people would lose their coverage, and premiums for some elderly would triple. Ryan and company know very well that CBO numbers on this bill will be even worse. So shove it through before CBO can say anything.
There are things wrong with Obamacare, and there ways to fix those things if people want to in good faith. But that’s not what this Republican Party wants to do. It wants to punish people. I’m sure a lot of them don’t really think this way; certainly not in their personal lives, when a loved one or friend gets sick. But they legislate this way.
And for the rest of us, that is all that matters.