“An Act of Both Unconscionable Heartlessness and Epic Cowardice”

From Greg Sargent, “How the Republican Coward Caucus Is About to Sell Out Its Own Constituents — In Secret” (The Washington Post):

The fate of the American health care system now rests with a group of allegedly “moderate” senators, who are getting ready to approve a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a repeal bill so monumental in its cruelty that they feel they have no choice but to draft it in secret, not let the public know what it does, hold not a single hearing or committee markup, slip it in a brown paper package to the Congressional Budget Office, then push it through to a vote before the July 4th recess before the inevitable backlash gets too loud.

“We aren’t stupid,” one GOP Senate aide told Caitlin Owens — they know what would happen if they made their bill public. Even Republican senators who aren’t part of the 13-member working group crafting the bill haven’t been told exactly what’s in it.

Today, we learned that in a break with longstanding precedent, “Senate officials are cracking down on media access, informing reporters on Tuesday that they will no longer be allowed to film or record audio of interviews in the Senate side hallways of the Capitol without special permission.” Everyone assumes that it’s so those senators can avoid having to appear on camera being asked uncomfortable questions about a bill that is as likely to be as popular as Ebola….

This is how a party acts when it is ashamed of what it is about to do to the American people. Yet all it would take to stop this abomination is for three Republicans to stand up to their party’s leaders and say, “No — I won’t do this to my constituents.” With only a 52-48 majority in the Senate, that would kill the bill. But right now, it’s looking as though this Coward Caucus is going to be unable to muster the necessary courage.

To understand the magnitude of what they’re doing, let’s focus on Medicaid, because it was supposed to be a sticking point on which some senators wouldn’t budge, particularly those whose states accepted the ACA’s expansion of the program. But according to various reports, the moderates have already caved….

Last week The Hill reported that [Sen. Capito of West Virginia] now supports eliminating the expansion after all — just doing it over seven years instead of the three years that the House bill required. The Charleston Gazette-Mail in Capito’s home state noted that Capito had said she didn’t want to drop all those West Virginians off a cliff, but “Instead, she would drop them off a cliff on the installment plan — around 25,000 per year for seven years.”

Or how about Ohio’s Rob Portman? In his state, 700,000 people gained insurance as a result of the Medicaid expansion. He drafted a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stating his opposition to the House bill because it didn’t protect those who gained insurance from the expansion. Now Portman also wants to phase out the expansion over seven years….

It’s important to know that the Medicaid question isn’t just about the millions who would lose coverage if the expansion is eliminated. Paige Winfield Cunningham reports today that Senate Republicans are considering even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the $880 billion the House bill slashed out of the program. They’d pay for the slower elimination of the expansion by cutting money out of the existing program, so they could get rid of all of the ACA’s tax increases — which mostly affected the wealthy. In other words, they want to cut Medicaid to give a tax break to rich people.

Just as critical, they want to end Medicaid’s status as an entitlement, meaning that the program wouldn’t cover everyone who’s eligible. States would get a chunk of money to spend, and if more people turned out to need coverage, tough luck for them. The states would be offered “flexibility,” which in practice would mean permission to kick people off the program and cut back on benefits. And don’t think this is just about poor people — over half of Medicaid dollars go to the elderly and disabled. That means that they aren’t just undoing the ACA; they’re making things substantially worse for tens of millions of America’s most vulnerable citizens than they were even before the ACA passed.

And they’re hoping they can do all this before anyone realizes what they’re up to, making this an act of both unconscionable heartlessness and epic cowardice. Their efforts to hide what they’re doing show that they are still capable of feeling some measure of shame. But it might not be enough to stop them.

All is not necessarily lost, since making it easier for relatively evil Republicans to vote Yes on the bill should make it harder for purely evil Republicans to vote Yes. So maybe the bill won’t make it out of the Senate. 

Assuming, however, that it passes the Senate, the bill will go to a conference with the House Republicans. Since the average House Republican is even more evil than the average Senate Republican, the bill could run into trouble in the conference. If the members of the conference can’t agree on the final language of the bill, it will die there. But it’s more likely that a final version of the bill will be sent back to the House and Senate for a vote.

That’s when all the Representatives and Senators (even the Democrats!) will get a chance to have their say on the bill. Assuming logic and morality don’t win the day, and simple majorities pass the bill in both houses, it will go to the President. If that sleazeball cares what’s in the bill, he’ll veto it, since it won’t be anything like the health care bill he promised. But we know how much we can count on him.

Even though we don’t know what will be in the final product (assuming there is one), it isn’t too soon to tell our members of Congress what we think of this monstrosity. There is no point in complaining to House Democrats, of course, since they have zero influence. But Senate Democrats can be encouraged to slow the process in the Senate as much as possible. As for Republican members of Congress, they deserve to be reminded that fewer than 20% of Americans approve of the Republican proposal (based on the last time they got a look at it) and there’s an election in 2018.