Twenty-Four Later, A Few Angry Observations

Now that the legislative assault on the Affordable Care Act has ended for the time being, I’d like to take a break from thinking about politics. I hope the members of Congress feel the same way. 

I can’t move on, however, without sharing some choice words I read today. First, Paul Waldman of The Washington Post wrote “This Is What You Get When You Vote For Republicans”:

“It goes much further than their repugnant and disastrous effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but all the contemporary GOP’s pathologies could be seen there: their outright malice toward ordinary people, their indifference to the suffering of their fellow citizens, their blazing incompetence, their contempt for democratic norms, their shameless hypocrisy, their gleeful ignorance about policy, their utter dishonesty and bad faith, their pure cynicism, and their complete inability to perform anything that resembles governing. It was the perfect Republican spectacle.

It’s remarkable to consider that there was a time not too long ago when the Grand Old Party was known for being serious, sober, a little boring, but above all, responsible. They were conservative in the traditional sense: wanting to conserve what they thought was good and fearful of rapid change. You might not have agreed with them, but there were limits to the damage they could do.

The devolution from that Republican Party to the one we see today took a couple of decades and had many sources, but its fullest expression was reached with the lifting up of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, this contemptible buffoon who may have been literally the single worst prominent American they could have chosen to be their standard-bearer. I mean that seriously. Can you think of a single person who might have run for president who is more ignorant, more impulsive, more vindictive and more generally dangerous than Donald Trump? And yet they rallied around him with near-unanimity, a worried shake of the head to his endless stream of atrocious statements and actions the strongest dissent most of them could muster.”

Waldman then reviews other recent travesties I won’t bother listing. He concludes:

“I could go on and delve into the president’s plan to blow up the Iran nuclear deal, or the climate-denial initiative at the Environmental Protection Agency, or all the fossil-fuel lobbyists now staffing the Interior Department, or any of a hundred abominable policies and programs. But the point is, we’re getting just what we should have expected. Donald Trump isn’t an aberration, he’s the apotheosis of contemporary Republicanism.

Republicans don’t care about making an honest case for their priorities; Trump lies nearly every time he opens his mouth. They’re unconcerned about the details of policy; he knows less about how government works than your average sixth-grader. They’re indifferent to human suffering; he literally advocates destroying the individual health-care market so he can blame Barack Obama for the lives that wind up ruined. They advocate a mindless anti-government philosophy; he has so much contempt for governing that he puts his son-in-law in charge of everything from solving the opioid crisis to achieving Middle East peace. They whine endlessly about the liberal media; he spends hours every day watching “Fox & Friends” and takes advice from Sean Hannity. Trump is the essence of the GOP, distilled down to its depraved and odious core.

America was given a reprieve last night, saved from the Republicans’ cruelest plans by a Democratic Party that stood strong, thousands of activists and ordinary citizens who organized in opposition and the GOP’s own incompetence. But this what you get when you give today’s Republican Party complete control of the government.”

Second, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine points out a big story that isn’t getting much attention today: 

“On Friday morning, the big story is that three Republicans voted no, and spared the individual insurance market from the threat of imminent collapse. But in the long run, the more significant development may be that 49 voted yes — and kicked out another chunk of concrete from the crumbling foundation of our (sorry excuse for a) representative democracy….

[The] threat to our republic has not been quarantined in the White House.

The congressional GOP has spent most of the past six months trying to cut nearly $800 billion out of a half-century-old program that 70 million Americans rely on for basic health care. They have also worked to erode protections for people with preexisting conditions; increase the average deductible on insurance plans sold over the individual market; and drastically raise premiums for a large swath of their own base, all for the sake of maximizing the amount of tax cuts they can deliver to multi-millionaires.

They have done all this while explicitly promising their own voters that they were trying to do the opposite…. Republican lawmakers knew that their policy goals lacked the support of their own voters. But [that] merely led them to try and obscure [their goals]…. They lied and hid, and hid and lied, until, finally, their mendacious cowardice reached its tragicomic apotheosis, and three U.S. senators publicly announced that they would vote for a “disaster” bill — but disavowed all responsibility for the effects it would have if passed into law, because they officially opposed it.

Trumpcare may be dead. But the libertarian plutocrats who bankroll the Republican Party are not. The Kochs, Mercers, and their ilk are not going to stop fighting for their agenda. And so long as an overwhelming majority of Americans do not want to live in Ayn Rand’s utopia, advancing their aims will require undermining responsive government in the United States. Earlier this month, House Republicans released a “budget blueprint,” which functioned as a formal declaration of the party’s long-term fiscal goals. Those included $500 billion worth of cuts to Medicare, $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, and the utter decimation of food aid and tax credits for the working poor. Few, if any, Republicans won election by publicly touting such plans. The party’s standard-bearer won the White House by promising to protect — and expand — the welfare state. They know they aren’t going to realize their vision through the power of persuasion.

But if they can pass enough voter-suppression laws to fine-tune the electorate; sow enough fatalistic cynicism about our political system to get ordinary Americans to tune out; buy up enough local television stations to deliver conservative propaganda to 70 percent of U.S. households; supply enough campaign contributions to insulate GOP incumbents from democratic rebuke; and eliminate enough transparency from the legislative process to leave the public incapable of comprehending what their representatives do and don’t support, maybe, just maybe, they can substitute their will for the majority’s.

Last night, they came one vote short. That’s a relief. But it’s also a crisis.”

Hooray!

Sometimes the good guys win!

The fight won’t be over until the Democrats regain the presidency or at least one house of Congress, but maybe the reactionaries will finally accept that America won’t go backward.  

And then one day we’ll finally get to universal medical coverage.

In the short term, however, what we need is for the hosts of Fox and Friends to accurately explain to their most devoted viewer what the Affordable Care Act does and how it could be made better (by expanding Medicaid to every state, for example). That could make a big difference to the health and welfare of the American people. 

Sometimes it’s okay to dream, because sometimes the good guys win.

Random Roundup, or We Did Pretty Well for 230 Years

Reader alert:

You can read what I’ve written below or look at Will Bunch’s column “America’s Democracy Doomsday Clock Just Hit 11:58” at Philly.com instead. I read his column after I was almost done writing this post. To borrow a phrase from a President who doesn’t seem so bad these days: “I could refer to Bunch’s column only after you read what I wrote – I could do that – but it would be wrong”.

Or you could read both, since they don’t overlap completely!

So to begin:

The U.S. Senate, which some observers used to seriously call the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”, is desperately trying to find 50 Republican votes to pass something, anything, to use as a vehicle to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act. If that happens this week, members of the Senate and House will then get together and discuss how best to cut taxes for the wealthy and health insurance for the non-wealthy. If they can agree on something, both houses of Congress will vote again. You can see the latest developments at The Washington Post and ThinkProgress (the latter is a “latest news first” page).

For a summary of the current healthcare “state of play”, see Paul Waldman’s excellent column: “Trump and Republicans Treat Their Voters Like Morons”. The main point he makes: 

In other words, their current position is, “We know how catastrophic this bill would be. But we got here by lying to these knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers for years, and if we don’t follow through, they’ll punish us”.

… There’s one other path open to them, which is to pass “skinny repeal” [which would only repeal a few parts of the ACA], then go to a conference committee with the House, in which an entirely new bill would be written incorporating the other things Republicans want to do. That bill could then be presented to both houses as a last chance to repeal the hated Obamacare, in the hopes that members would vote for it despite its inevitable unpopularity and cataclysmic consequences for Americans’ health care.

If and when that happens, Republicans will make that same calculation again: This thing is terrible and most everyone hates it, but we have to pass something because we fooled our base into thinking this would all be simple and we could give them everything they want. Or as Trump said during the campaign, “You’re going to have such great healthcare at a tiny fraction of the cost, and it is going to be so easy.”

That was just one of the many lies they were told, and they ate it up. 

I believe their attempt to repeal/replace the ACA is doomed, but I’m not a member of Congress. By the way, we are still being encouraged to contact Republican legislators on this issue. That’s because most members of the House and Senate are toddlers with extremely short attention spans. They need constant reinforcement in order to behave properly.

On Monday, DT (if only his middle name had been “Dennis” or “Darren”) tried to turn the Boy Scout Jamboree into a Hitler, excuse me, Drumpf Youth rally. New York Magazine has the story, including their “14 most inappropriate moments”. Digby comments:

It makes me feel like crying. The celebration of rank stupidity, the crude brutality, the incessant bragging, the whining and the lying in front of a bunch of cheering and jeering boy scouts is almost physically painful to watch. 

That’s being imprinted on this next generation as leadership. 

Meanwhile, DT is trying to get the Attorney General, old-style racist Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (aka “the nation’s top law enforcement officer”) to resign because Sessions hasn’t lied and obstructed justice enough on DT’s behalf. In itself, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Back to Paul Waldman for a summary of the AG’s first six months in office:

Jeff Sessions is a uniquely odious figure, perhaps the most malevolent force within the Trump administration. His most visible actions as head of the Justice Department have included shutting down oversight of local police departments accused of misconduct; renewing an ’80s-style “war on drugs”; advocating for asset forfeiture programs that literally steal money and property from people who are not even accused of a crime, let alone convicted; promoting mandatory minimum sentencing that members of both parties have come to see as cruel, unjust, and counterproductive; and rolling back civil rights protections for transgender children. While some Trump appointees have been most notable for their incompetence, if he gets his way Sessions will have a profoundly malignant impact on the nation.

DT wants Sessions to fire the Special Counsel who’s investigating DT’s criminal activities. Ideally, if Sessions were to go (hooray!), Congress would keep the Special Counsel’s investigation on track, which would be easy for them to do. But again, I’m not a member of Congress. (Don’t worry: To quote a true American hero, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman: “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected”. And he really could have been president if he’d wanted the job.)

Finally, the author of The Washington Post‘s “Right Turn” blog (“Jennifer Rubin’s take from a conservative perspective”) has a good suggestion:

A large segment of Republican voters should try turning off Fox News and allowing reality to permeate the shell they’ve constructed to keep out ideas that interfere with their prejudices and abject ignorance. Unfair? Take a look at the latest poll to suggest that Trump voters like their cult hero feel compelled to label inconvenient facts “fake news.” Morning Consult reports: “A plurality of Republicans say President Donald Trump received more of the popular vote in 2016 than his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton….

The report continues: “Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, said … Tuesday that Trump has “perfected the technique of the Big Lie” — which, as he wrote in an op-ed last fall, is to “repeat a lie loudly, over and over until people come to believe it. These results show that again that like ‘Birtherism,’ which launched Trump’s political career, the Big Lie continues to work, at least among those who want to believe it’.”

If these voters do not know or cannot accept something as simple as vote totals, do we really expect they will be amenable to reason on immigration (sorry, but illegal immigrants aren’t causing a crime wave), global warning (sorry, it’s not a hoax) or uncontroverted evidence of Russian meddling in the election? I’m sure all this makes the Trump staff and surrogates laugh uproariously as they admire their handiwork in bamboozling the angry mob. But they and the network of right-wing enablers have done real damage to our society and politics, making differences impossible to bridge and reasoned debate nearly impossible….

Democracy presupposes a minimally informed, responsible adult electorate. Right now it is clear the GOP is dominated by fact-deniers and willfully ignorant folk…

But here’s the thing: The rest of the country should empathize with their economic plight and sense of alienation, but that does not mean we should coddle them in their ignorance nor defer to judgments based on fabrication. They feel “disrespected” when fellow Americans point to reality? Trumpkins think elites are condescending when they call them “low information” voters? (It should be non-information voters.) Sorry, economic hardship does not bestow moral authority to lie, invent facts, smear opponents, blame foreigners or support lawlessness. And for elected Republicans to defer to the ignorant, beguiled voters is an abdication of their role and oaths.

However many years it’s been, 230 or 240 or some other number depending on how you count, we had a pretty good run. (Oh, sure, it can all turn around if people get out and vote, but, oh brother, this is bad.)

Update:

Brian Beutler predicts that Senate Republican will simply vote to remove the “individual mandate” portion of the Affordable Care Act, the rule that says people must buy health insurance or pay a penalty, and that the House will accept that change without further negotiation. Doing this would throw the health insurance market into chaos. Millions of relatively young or healthy Americans would decide not to pay for insurance until they needed it. As a result, millions of relatively old or sick Americans wouldn’t be able to afford coverage because of rising premiums.

No Smooth Sailing Ahead for the Bad Guys in Washington

There are lots of reasons why the Republicans haven’t passed any significant legislation this year (during what is supposed to be the new president’s “honeymoon” phase). The one I keep coming back to is DT’s ignorance and incompetence. He doesn’t understand the legislation he’s supposed to be in favor of, which is one reason he hasn’t been able to make any “deals”, even though making deals was supposed to be his great strength. All he can do is to say the kind of things presidents often say (“It’s the other side’s fault for not cooperating”) regardless of the situation at hand. He might as well be one of those dolls with a string out the back or a button to push, programmed to repeat random presidential phrases (“We’re working hard to help middle class families!”) and vacuous campaign promises (“Our healthcare bill is going to be wonderful!”).

But some of the things he says are so stupid, they bear repeating. The Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate vs. 48 for the Democrats. They needed 50 of those Republican senators to repeal the ACA, something they’ve been talking about doing for more than seven years. Today, DT “lamented the inability of Senate Republicans to pass their healthcare bill, but said that coming up short was still ‘pretty impressive'”:

“You had 52 people, you had 4 no’s,” [he] said during a meeting at the White House. “Now, we might have had another one, someone in there. But the vote would have been if you look at it, 48-4. That’s a pretty impressive vote by any standard.

So getting at most 48 Republicans to vote Yes, while 48 Democrats and at least four Republicans were going to vote No, was pretty impressive by any standard? How about the standard called “having enough votes to get something done”?

Now that the Republicans have failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (for the time being), journalist Paul Waldman points out that they have other problems to deal with:

One way to interpret this failure is that Republicans were undone by an ignorant, erratic, feckless president who couldn’t be bothered to help them pass the bill. There’s some truth in that story — President Trump’s indifference and buffoonery certainly didn’t do them any favors. But the real failure belongs to Republicans in Congress, both the leadership and the rank and file. And now, as they try to salvage their agenda in what will be an unusually challenging few months, they could be undone by the same weaknesses that rendered them unable to pass their health-care bill….

The debt ceiling: 

Before Barack Obama became president, the debt ceiling was little more than a periodic opportunity for some consequence-free posturing….Members of the opposition party would give a few speeches railing against the administration’s free-spending ways, then Congress would vote to raise the ceiling, with a few of the opposition members casting protest votes against the increase. No one even considered not raising the ceiling as a serious possibility, as that would be cataclysmic — if the United States were no longer paying its debts, it could set off a worldwide financial crisis.

That is, until the tea party came to town, with a “tear it all down” philosophy and a hatred of Obama that burned with the fire of a thousand suns. So we had debt ceiling crises in 2011 and 2013 in which there was a serious possibility that the [Republicans] would refuse to increase the ceiling and the government would go into default.

Which brings us today. The debt-ceiling increase must be passed by October, but the administration can’t even decide itself whether to have a “clean” vote without strings attached…. Congress may end up fighting with itself as well, as the leadership tries to just increase the debt ceiling and avoid a catastrophe while conservative members try to use that specter as a way to extract policy concessions. What should be easy, because Republicans have total control of government, becomes excruciatingly hard.

(A side note: The fact that we have a debt ceiling at all is insane. The only other democratic country that has one is Denmark, and they set theirs so high that it’s never a problem. We should just get rid of it entirely.)

The budget: 

Today the House Budget Committee released a blueprint of the House budget, and in many ways it’s analogous to what gave them such difficulty on health care: It includes savage cuts to domestic programs that are politically perilous and will cause reservations among House moderates and threaten the bill’s chances in the Senate, yet are nonetheless decried by House conservatives as not cruel enough, all justified using unrealistic predictions about the future….

There are big cuts to programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, and this bill would even move forward on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s fantasy of turning Medicare into a voucher program. In other words, it provides ample targets for Democrats to charge that it’s another attack on the safety net while it helps out Wall Street (there are provisions unwinding the Dodd-Frank law in there, too) and paves the way for a tax cut for the wealthy. Which brings us to …

Tax reform: 

Because of procedural rules, Republicans need to pass the budget in order to use reconciliation for tax reform, which would enable them to pass a tax bill with only 50 votes in the Senate. But even if they pass the budget, tax reform is going to be extraordinarily difficult, because it will pit various Republican constituencies against each other, all wanting to preserve the tax breaks and loopholes their lobbyists have so painstakingly written over the years. Many Republicans say that passing tax reform will be even more difficult than passing health-care reform was. While in the past tax reform has proven so complicated that it has taken years of work and negotiations to accomplish, the Keystone Kops of this Congress want to get it done in the next few months, and they’ve barely begun working on it….

That’s not to mention that alleged priorities such as infrastructure have just disappeared in the dust cloud kicked up by Republican pratfalls. This is all a reminder that even when a party controls both Congress and the White House, success in passing meaningful legislation is anything but guaranteed. It also serves to highlight what an extraordinary job {Democrats] did in the first two years of Obama’s first term, when they passed a set of hugely consequential bills including a stimulus package, Wall Street reform, health-care reform, the auto bailout, FDA oversight of tobacco, an expansion of CHIP and many other things that most of us have forgotten.

It turns out that legislating is hard — who knew! — and in order to be successful at it, you need a number of things: an understanding of the process, skill at wrangling your members, a relatively unified caucus in both houses, a president who can intervene successfully at key moments and the support of the public for the substance of what you’re trying to do. Republicans’ failure so far to pass any major legislation is a result of their lack of some or all of those requirements. And there’s little reason to think they’re going to have an easier time from this point on.

Yes, It’s Your Doom and Gloom Roundup, But Maybe With Light at the End of the Tunnel

Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Sufferings of the World” (1836):

In early youth, as we contemplate our coming life, we are like children in a theater before the curtain is raised, sitting there in high spirits and eagerly waiting for the play to begin. It is a blessing that we do not know what is really going to happen. 

You tell ’em, Art.

Craig Unger, “Trump’s Russian Laundromat”, The New Republic:

A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money…. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics….

By 2004, to the outside world, it appeared that Trump was back on top after his failures in Atlantic City. That January, flush with the appearance of success, Trump launched his newly burnished brand into another medium.

[The Apprentice] instantly revived his career. “The Apprentice turned Trump from a blowhard Richie Rich who had just gone through his most difficult decade into an unlikely symbol of straight talk, an evangelist for the American gospel of success, a decider who insisted on standards in a country that had somehow slipped into handing out trophies for just showing up,” … Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher observe in their book Trump Revealed. “Above all, Apprentice sold an image of the host-boss as supremely competent and confident, dispensing his authority and getting immediate results. The analogy to politics was palpable”….

Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.

I sometimes wonder how many of the millions of people who watched The Apprentice for years and years voted for this “poor person’s idea of a rich person” and whether DT’s shady business deals will ever catch up with him.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, “Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting sure sounds like a Russian intelligence operation”, The Washington Post:

….everything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting — and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities — may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election….

Had this Russian overture been rejected or promptly reported by the Trump campaign to U.S. authorities, Russian intelligence would have been forced to recalculate the risk vs. gain of continuing its aggressive operation to influence U.S. domestic politics. Russian meddling might have been compromised in its early stages and stopped in its tracks by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies before it reached fruition by the late fall.

So the suggestion that this was a nothing meeting without consequence is, in all likelihood, badly mistaken.

Paul Krugman, “Takers and Fakers”, The New York Times

… throughout the whole campaign against Obamacare, Republicans have been lying about their intentions.

Believe it or not, conservatives actually do have a more or less coherent vision of health care. It’s basically pure Ayn Rand: if you’re sick or poor, you’re on your own…. Specifically:

1. Health care, even the most essential care, is a privilege, not a right. If you can’t get insurance because you have a preexisting condition, because your income isn’t high enough, or both, too bad.

2. People who manage to get insurance through government aid, whether Medicaid, subsidies, or regulation and mandates that force healthy people to buy into a common risk pool, are “takers” exploiting the wealth creators, aka the rich.

3. Even for those who have insurance, it covers too much. Deductibles and co-pays should be much higher, to give people “skin in the game”…

4. All of this applies to seniors as well as younger people. Medicare as we know it should be abolished, replaced with a voucher system that can be used to help pay for private policies – and funding will be steadily cut below currently projected levels, pushing people into high-deductible, high-copay private policies.

This is … what conservative health care “experts” say when they aren’t running for public office, or closely connected to anyone who is. I think it’s a terrible doctrine … because buying health care isn’t and can’t be like buying furniture….

But think of how Republicans have actually run against Obamacare. They’ve lambasted the law for not covering everyone, even though their fundamental philosophy is NOT to cover everyone, or accept any responsibility for the uninsured. They’ve denied that their massive cuts to Medicaid are actually cuts, pretending to care about the people they not-so-privately consider moochers. They’ve denounced Obamacare policies for having excessively high deductibles, when higher deductibles are at the core of their ideas about cost control. And they’ve accused Obamacare of raiding Medicare, a program they’ve been trying to kill since 1995.

In other words, their whole political strategy has been based on lies – not shading the truth, not spinning, but pretending to want exactly the opposite of what they actually want.

And this strategy was wildly successful, right up to the moment when Republicans finally got a chance to put their money – or actually your money – where their mouths were. The trouble they’re having therefore has nothing to do with tactics, or for that matter with Trump. It’s what happens when many years of complete fraudulence come up against reality.

As Krugman writes elsewhere:

… everyone, and I mean everyone, who knows something about insurance markets is declaring the same thing: that the [Republican] bill would be a disaster. We’ve got the insurance industry declaring it “simply unworkable”; the American Academy of Actuaries saying effectively the same thing; AARP up in arms; and more [doctors, nurses, state governors, voters]. 

And yet, it still might become law this month. Why?

Jennifer Rubin, “The GOP’s Moral Rot Is the Problem, Not Donald Trump”, The Washington Post:

… for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, … elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party … with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.

We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House….

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity….the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code”. 

Helen Keller, Optimism: An Essay (1903):

The test of all beliefs is their practical effects in life. If it be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, then it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy. One who believes that the pain in the world outweighs the joy, and expresses that unhappy conviction, only adds to the pain. Schopenhauer is an enemy to the race. Even if he earnestly believed that this is the most wretched of possible worlds, he should not promulgate a doctrine which robs men of the incentive to fight with circumstance.

All right, Helen, the good news is that a Republican senator is recovering from surgery and won’t be in Washington this coming week. His vote would be needed to move the Republican bill forward, so the vote has been delayed, giving the opposition more time to terminate this horror show with extreme prejudice.

Something Encouraging For a Change

In today’s news, Senator Turtle Face (formally known as Addison Mitchell McConnell, Jr., Republican of Kentucky) delayed the vote on the “Less Money for Health Insurance Equals More Money for Rich People” bill. Presumably, he didn’t have enough Yes votes to pass legislation that nobody (except him and a few rich people?) likes.

This will either give the Republicans a few days to find the necessary Yes votes, or it will give opponents of the bill (of which there are many) the chance to create more No votes. Since the Senate Majority Leader had planned a quick vote on a bill he tried to keep as secret as possible, the postponement appears on balance to be a welcome development.

Proving again that he is indeed the Master Negotiator, the President put on a show at the White House today with Republican Senators, at which he announced:

This will be great if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s OK, and I understand that very well.

As far as we know, the President has not yet demonstrated in a single case whatsoever that he has any understanding at all of the the American healthcare system, the Affordable Care Act, or the Republican effort to repeal or replace it. Clearly, he is a Big Picture guy.

Consistent with the possibility that this is not Hell, some observers think the Republicans’ struggles are a sign of better things to come. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post writes:

The Republican health-care bill is not dead yet, but it’s in rough shape. Whether it passes or not, it has been an utter debacle for the GOP, making the Affordable Care Act they’re trying to undo more popular than ever, energizing the Democratic base, complicating the relationship between President [DT] and Congress and sowing justified distrust of Republican motives among the broader public.

It has also done something else: moved the debate on health care in America to the left and made single payer much more likely.

Even if the Senate bill fails, Republicans give up and move on to tax reform, and the status quo remains in place, this debate will have had profound effects on our politics. While the Democratic Party may have been moving to the left on health care anyway, its momentum in that direction may now be unstoppable. And the entire country will be more receptive than ever to the arguments Democrats will make. This, by the way, will also be the case if the GOP repeal effort succeeds, because it will make so much that people hate about our health-care system a lot worse.

Let me point to one politician as an illustration. For years, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s position on single payer has essentially been “Maybe someday” — not opposed to it, but focused in the short term on the more urgent priority of defending and enhancing the ACA. But in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, we learn that she is now ready to take that plunge:

“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she said during an interview in her Senate office last week. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

Warren is not going to be the last Democrat to take this step. In fact, any Democrat who runs for president in 2020 — and there will be a lot of them — will have a hard time explaining to the primary electorate why they don’t want single payer, and most or all of them will probably say they do.

We can make an analogy with what happened in the GOP after the failure of comprehensive immigration reform [in 2013]…. The situations aren’t exactly the same, but … a dramatic political failure — whether it’s yours or the other party’s — can have profound effects on the choices politicians make about how to approach the electorate. And it’s important to understand that while there are some Democratic politicians who emphatically favor single payer and would be unsatisfied with anything less, most of them would be willing to advocate for a range of policy options, depending on what looks politically achievable and what their base demands at a particular moment.

All the ups and downs of the past eight years, from the beginning of the debate on the ACA to the end of the debate on Republican repeal plans, hold many lessons for Democrats who are still eager to address the problems in the American health-care system. Among other things, we know that voters are risk-averse, that they’re extremely sensitive to out-of-pocket costs, that they want security and that arguments about the glories of the free market aren’t going to be persuasive to them. After seeing how desperately unpopular this Republican plan is, Democrats are going to be much less afraid to defend government health care and advocate its expansion.

And they know that whatever they propose next has to be simple and understandable. We can debate whether the ACA had to be as complex as it was, but next time around, no Democrat is going to believe that you can take on President Trump with a technocratic approach to health care. Saying “Here are the 10 tweaks I’d make to the ACA” isn’t going to cut it.

That isn’t to say that whatever plans they propose won’t be fully fleshed out under the hood, but they’ll have to be presented in a way that is easy for voters to understand. And, yes, Republicans will cry about “Washington bureaucrats making decisions for you,” but Democrats are less likely to be intimidated. Ask your parents or grandparents on Medicare how they feel about their coverage — Medicare is the most popular health insurance program we have, and it’s run by Washington bureaucrats.

It’s important to keep in mind that “single payer” isn’t one thing — if you look around the world at highly developed countries, there is a spectrum of health systems with various levels of public and private involvement. But what they have in common is that they achieve universal coverage while working better and costing less than ours. We could well have 15 Democratic presidential candidates proposing 15 different kinds of single payer. Some may be highly socialized systems — what Bernie Sanders would likely advocate if he runs again — but the ones that are most appealing could be hybrid systems of the kind that have been successful in countries such as France. The way it works is that there’s a government plan that covers everyone’s basic needs, but you can also buy supplemental private insurance to get as many more benefits as you want.

Among the advantages of a hybrid system is that one can actually see a path from where we are now to there. That path runs through Medicaid, which now covers nearly 75 million Americans. What if we auto-enrolled everyone under 65 in Medicaid — it’s there if you need it, but if you have different insurance you’d prefer, go ahead and use that instead. No one would be without coverage. Private insurance would evolve into something you buy to fill in the gaps and get perks that Medicaid wouldn’t provide. Instead of covering all your health care, employers could provide the supplemental private insurance.

As a political matter, you could sell this as something that we could transition to over an extended period, and as a system that satisfies the goals of both liberals and conservatives. Liberals get the universal coverage and security they want, and conservatives get the freedom they want — if you’re rich enough to buy a supplemental plan that includes deliveries of Dom Perignon during any hospitalization, go right ahead.

That isn’t to say that Republicans wouldn’t resist and there won’t be more intense arguments about health care, because they would and there will be. But by handling this debate so terribly and proposing something so monstrous, Republicans have opened up the space for Democrats to go much further than they’ve been willing to before. It’s not impossible to foresee Democrats winning the House in 2018, then taking the presidency and the Senate in 2020 — and then taking the first steps toward making single-payer health care in America a reality. 

End quote.

Bad News, Good News, No News

I was going to write more about consciousness, in particular about dreaming, but Senate Republicans finally let the rest of us see the healthcare bill they plan to vote on next week. Unless three of them vote No, it will almost certainly be approved by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. It will then be signed into law by the con man in the White House.

The bill would reduce government spending on health insurance by billions of dollars, which would lead to a harder life or a quicker death for millions of Americans. Most importantly its authors, however, the bill would give a big tax cut to the wealthiest 2% of the population and to favored corporations. Basically, the government will make health insurance more expensive or hard to get for lots of us in order for a few of us to be richer than they already are. You really need to be a Republican to appreciate the beauty of it.

Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat of Connecticut), who seems to be a nice, reasonable person, gives a helpful overview of the Senate bill in this brief video.

In other bad news: 

Except it’s not really news at all. It’s a blog post from Heather Digby Parton (“Digby”) entitled “Why Are They Doing This? Because They Can, or: How To Get Away With Murder”. It summarizes the present crisis and begins with a quote from another writer:

Jamelle Bouie answers the question as to why the Republicans are going forward with their Kill People for Tax Cuts bill [the AHCA] despite the fact that it’s the most unpopular piece of legislation in history:

“The 2018 House map still favors Republicans, and the party is defending far fewer Senate seats than Democrats. Aggressively gerrymandered districts provide another layer of defense, as does voter suppression, and the avalanche of spending from outside groups. Americans might be hurt and outraged by the effects of the AHCA, but those barriers blunt the electoral impact.”

“The grounds for political combat seem to have changed as well. If recent special elections are any indication—where GOP candidates refused to comment on signature GOP policies—extreme polarization means Republicans can mobilize supporters without being forced to talk about or account for their actual actions. Identity, for many voters, matters more than their pocketbooks. Republicans simply need to signal their disdain—even hatred—for their opponents, political or otherwise. Why worry about the consequences of your policies when you can preclude defeat by changing the ground rules of elections, spending vast sums, and stoking cultural resentment?”

“It seems, then, that we have an answer for why Republicans insist on moving forward with the American Health Care Act. Because they can. And who is going to stop them?”

[Now back to Digby:]

It appears they also have a foreign country helping them get elected, for which they seem to be very grateful.

They don’t fear the voters because they have managed to create an alternate universe for them in which everything bad that happens to them is the fault of hippies, feminazis, immigrants and people of color and everything good that happens is because of them. When liberals scream they laugh with delight because it means we are seeing justice at their hands.

And they’ve successfully created an electoral system than keeps them in the majority through undemocratic means. It’s a sweet scam. No wonder they are so confident. They have staged a silent coup and we just have to live with it.

Digby was probably having a pessimistic moment there at the end, because we don’t just have to live with it. What we need to do is pay attention, speak up and vote. But that will take time.

Now the good news. Senator Dean Heller (Republican of Nevada) came out pretty strongly against the bill today. He’s very worried about losing his job next year. That partly explains this:

“I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Nevadans,” Heller said….[To win his vote] GOP leaders would have to “protect Medicaid expansion states” from the bill’s current cuts.

“It’s going to be very difficult to get me to a yes,” he said, noting that conservative [i.e. truly radical] Republican senators would likely be reluctant to add spending back to the measure.

Another Republican Senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, thinks the bill isn’t as cruel or “libertarian” as it could be, so he might vote against it. That would mean we’d only need one more Republican to jump ship in order to sink it.

Which might be what the Senate Majority Leader, odious Senator Mitch McConnell (also of Kentucky), is expecting to happen, according to an interesting column by Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post. It’s called “Cheer Up, Democrats!”. Although McConnell is a terrible person, Rubin points out that he isn’t stupid. He understands that hardly anyone likes his bill. He also probably understands that there is no easy way to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite what the Republicans have been telling their deluded supporters all these years.

So McConnell may be trying to get health care off his plate as quickly as possible, even if the vote doesn’t go his way. That will allow him and his co-conspirators to get back to what they really want to do: cut taxes, kill regulations, put poor people in jail and destroy what’s left of our democracy. (That last part is no news.)