After they had voted Wednesday to screw tens of millions of Americans out of the health care and financial protections granted them by the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, House Republicans marched over to the White House for a Rose Garden press conference. There they verbally fellated one another for the bravery they had just shown. “Leadership” was the watchword of the day.
“Thanks to the leadership of President Donald Trump; welcome to the beginning of the end of Obamacare,” Vice President Mike Pence intoned. “Thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership,” said the giddy-looking House Speaker Paul Ryan. “Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, I am proud . . . again to say thank you for your leadership,” drawled the gnomish chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Rep. Kevin Brady. Trump, while not using the word, nonetheless praised Ryan for the efforts he had undertaken to drag out enough votes from his caucus.
It was a surreal celebration, considering how far this bill still has to go before it gets to the president’s desk to be considered for signing. It was even more surreal for the blatant lies coming out of the mouths of various Republicans about what this bill will do, at least if the final version remotely resembles this one. No one in the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon wanted to admit it, but the financial and human costs are simply staggering.
As many as 24 million fewer people with health insurance. An $880 billion cut to Medicaid, which provides health care coverage to roughly one 1 of every 5 Americans (and would cover more if not for the 19 states that have turned down Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion). The defunding of Planned Parenthood. Cuts to treatment for addiction, for nursing home costs, for special education students. The return of insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. The list of those pre-existing conditions. And on and on and on.
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There is also a tax cut for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans totaling just shy of $1 trillion. This cut was really the driving motivation for passing this repeal. Republicans in general may ideologically oppose higher taxes, but they especially oppose spending those revenues on the general welfare of the larger public.
The GOP has collectively dissembled when confronted with these effects, when not turning off their phones and refusing to hear from constituents. Which is why, despite all the backslapping going on in the Rose Garden, despite the House caucus maybe celebrating by raising a few Bud Lights, despite whatever fawning you might hear from cable news pundits, the passage of this bill was a catastrophic failure of leadership.
Why is this the case?
Everything about the way this entire legislative Götterdämmerung was passed points to a Republican Party that is absolutely terrified of learning or admitting the truth of what the American Health Care Act will do if it is signed into law. The GOP held no committee hearings on the bill. It did not circulate the legislative text until 8 p.m. the night before the vote, providing far too little time for representatives and their staffs to read through it and turn up every implication of the bill’s particulars. Members were reported to have shut off their office phones so they would not have to register the complaints of their constituents.
Most telling of all, House Republicans proclaimed themselves to be in too much of a rush to wait for the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill as it always does — to estimate how much it will cost, how many people would likely lose insurance and how badly it would balloon the deficit over a 10-year budget window. In the past — like in March, the first time the House tried to pass this abomination — the GOP would at least have given itself the opportunity to denounce the CBO’s score. This time, it didn’t even try to do that.
In short, the GOP is doing everything it can to hide the true costs of this bill from the public. It may be dressing up this legislation to appear as a fulfillment of the promise that Republicans made to constituents in the 2016 election (and for several elections before that) to repeal Obamacare. But in reality, House Republicans are playing a game of hot potato, passing this insanely destructive bill off to the Senate and letting that body become the focus of an enraged electorate.
I can think of a word for what to call that, and it is not “leadership.”