Here’s a question for all the Democratic-leaning voters who abstained last fall — the ones who stayed home, spurned Hillary, skipped the down-ballot candidates and pined in vain for Bernie.
Because if they still somehow think that going AWOL made no difference, they should read the Senate Republican bill that eviscerates Obamacare by shredding the safety net. Because if they still somehow think there’s no real difference between the “corporate” Democrats and the Trump Republicans, they should understand — perhaps with the help of a good whack from a 2-by-4 upside the head — that the Republican aim of wrecking Obama’s legacy by transferring wealth to the rich is creeping closer to fulfillment. And it’s the neediest who will suffer most.
Supposedly, four or five Republican senators are prepared to oppose the kill-Obamacare bill that surfaced yesterday after weeks of backstage secrecy. According to current Senate math, the bill dies if only three Republicans vote no next week. But don’t bet on that happening. When the chips are down, Republicans will likely indulge their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strike a lethal blow against “big government” and play Robin Hood in reverse.
The Senate sabotage of Obamacare differs from the House sabotage of Obamacare only in the fine print. There’s no need to get into the weeds here; suffice it to say that Mitch McConnell’s ideological soldiers intend to gift massive tax cuts to the affluent (who currently finance Obamacare), and to pay for those tax cuts by deeply slashing Medicaid, the federal program that provides insurance to roughly 70 million Americans.
Remember when Donald Trump declared in May 2015 that he was the “first and only potential candidate” to promise “no cuts” to Medicaid? He surrendered that promise back in May, when he celebrated in the Rose Garden with House Republicans who’d just eked out a kill-Obamacare bill that slashes Medicaid by $800 billion.
One of his flacks said this week that Trump still “wants to protect Medicaid as much as possible,” but that’s just another worthless White House word-belch, roughly on a par with Trump’s insinuation that he recorded James Comey. Bottom line is, Trump will sign anything he can spin as a win.
As a political document alone, McConnell’s measure is brilliantly mendacious. It delivers the massive tax cuts right away, thus prompting the party’s wealthiest donors to show their gratitude by writing big checks for the 2018 midterms. And it postpones the most draconian Medicaid cuts until after 2020, thus minimizing voter backlash in the 2018 midterms. All told, the Senate’s so-called “Better Care Reconciliation Act” is actually The Republican Incumbent Protection Act.
And voters don’t pay attention anyway. According to new polling stats from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 74 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Medicaid — but only 38 percent are even aware that the House’s health bill takes the knife to Medicaid. Willful ignorance is the Republicans’ ally.
Can this train wreck be averted? We keep hearing that the Senate measure is too moderate for conservatives like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz (who want deeper cuts and a weaker safety net), but too conservative for “moderates” like Rob Portman and Shelly Moore Capito (who say that Medicaid cuts will hurt their states’ efforts to fight the opioid epidemic). But don’t be shocked if Republican leaders buy off the waverers by throwing them extra money. And the waverers have incentive to cave; none of them wants to be the one who sinks the bill, because that would guarantee a right-wing challenger in the next round of primaries.
And Democrats are dreaming if they think that the House and Senate Republicans can’t iron out their health bill disagreements. The details may differ, but the key ideological goal — feathering the financial nests of the affluent, at the expense of the needy — is the same. And even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office will likely conclude next week that the Senate version, like the vastly unpopular House version, will ultimately swell the ranks of the uninsured by roughly 20 million people ... well, Republicans just view them as collateral damage.
Still, the party’s Senate leaders aren’t totally oblivious. They crafted the bill without public hearings, and they’ve scheduled it for speedy debate and passage next week, because they want to short-circuit the anticipated public outcry. And without sufficient pushback, they’ll win.
Some dude on Facebook — I believe his name was Barack Obama — wrote, “This debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It’s about the character of our country — who we are, and who we aspire to be.”
Once again, Republicans have revealed their true character. Is it America’s?
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.