A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: When it comes to replacing Obamacare, McConnell, GOP make sure the fix is in

WASHINGTON – Let’s get a few things straight.

Republicans control both the House and Senate and they are on the verge of replacing the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, with a hideous facsimile that, by almost all accounts, threatens the insurance coverage of about 23 million Americans, cuts Medicaid to the bone, reduces subsidies afforded to help individuals attain coverage and creates a situation that likely will cause premiums for the elderly to skyrocket.

While Obamacare has its problems, many of which can be resolved with a few simple Congressional fixes, the replacement package adopted by the House in May, ironically called the American Health Care Act, is infinitely worse. How much worse?

Well, the Congressional Budget Office maintains the GOP alternative produced in the lower chamber will actually save millions of dollars by reducing the amount that goes into paying Social Security benefits – more people will die sooner, so the payout won’t be as great.

To Republicans these days, that’s considered progress.

So that godawful, slime-ridden piece of legislation was ceremoniously dispatched to the Senate where the adults in the process are supposed to reside and are being counted on to render the abomination more palatable.

But those living in hope failed to reckon with the fact that the fabled upper chamber is now operating under the auspices of Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root ‘n Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, who has made it his life’s mission to eradicate anything that can be credited to former President Barack Obama, damnatio memoriae.

Just like Uncle Joe Stalin, ol’ Root ‘n Branch has his Great Purge running in fifth gear and he’s not going to let a little thing like the health of the American people get in his way.

The first thing McConnell did upon receiving the House bill was form a panel – 13 old, white men, no women, African-Americans or Democrats – to work behind closed doors to develop an alternative that, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, of Texas, one of the chamber’s lesser lights, said will likely closely track the House version.

To this point, apparently only those 13 know for sure what’s in the Senate alternative and it may stay that way awhile longer. None of the chamber’s 46 Democrats and two independents have the foggiest notion of its provisions and they’re not alone. Several Republicans — Sens. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, Bob Corker, of Tennessee, Bill Cassidy, of Louisiana, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Jeff Flake, of Arizona — are on record saying they’re equally in the dark.

Regardless, McConnell is intent on rushing the bill to the floor before Congress breaks for a week long Independence Day recess. He has, in fact, already invoked the seldom used Rule 14, which allows the bill to steer clear of the committee process and head straight to the floor, thus avoiding any hearings that are sure to point out just how terrible his piece of junk is.

In addition, the Senate parliamentarian has, since the AHCA is a budgetary measure that affects the deficit, determined that it can be considered under reconciliation, meaning Democrats and other potential opponents can’t filibuster.

In other words, the fix is in. You may remember Ol’ Root ‘n Branch, upon assuming leadership of the Senate majority in 2015, vowed to return the chamber to regular order, requiring legislation to go through the committee process, encouraging strong debate and permitting plenty of amendments on the floor.

You didn’t think he really meant it, did you?

So, why all the furtiveness? Well, that’s pretty easy – the bill is going to stink to high heavens and McConnell wants to flush it through with as little resistance as humanly possible. So he’s treating it like Flossie the Kitty hiding her business under a giant pile of cat litter. It won’t go away but hopefully fewer people will notice.

“The Republican majority is afraid of the American people learning what is in their healthcare bill,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York, said in a speech on the Senate floor this week. “They don’t want the American people to know how much they cut and destroy Medicaid, or how fat of a tax break they give to the wealthiest few, because they know the backlash will be severe. In short, by their actions it seems our Republican colleagues are ashamed by this bill.”

The rub is, to McConnell and other Republicans, the AHCA is more of a tax cut bill than a health care measure. The legislation that emanated from the House cut about $765 billion in taxes over 10 years, mostly benefitting – you guessed it – the enormously wealthy who, as luck would have it, fund a lot of the GOP’s political endeavors.

As an example, Obamacare is partially funded through a 3.8 percent tax hike on investment income and a 0.9 percent payroll tax. Both of those levies apply only to those individuals earning more than $200,000 and married couples bringing in more than $250,000 annually. The House version of the replacement bill would eliminate both taxes, although the payroll tax is slated to remain in place until 2024.

In other words, Congressional Republicans are paying for a tax increase for the rich by rendering many of those lower on the economic scale sicker.

But what McConnell and other like-minded Republicans fail to add is their own inaction has undermined the system. Insurers are bailing out because of uncertainty over the future of the insurance exchanges developed to provide consumers with options.

Ol’ Root ‘n Branch, of course, doesn’t see things that way. McConnell maintains Obamacare is falling apart and he’s going to ride in and save the day by ridding them poor people of their health care. You can thank him later.

It is clear, McConnell said in a floor statement, that “the status quo is simply unsustainable.’’

“That is why Republican Senators have been working hard on solutions that could help rescue American families who have been hurt by this law’s failures,’’ McConnell said. “Members will keep working this week because bringing relief from Obamacare may not be easy, but it is necessary.’’

It apparently never occurred to the Republican leader that, rather than replace the Affordable Care Act, that lawmakers dig in and adopt legislation to make it work better, allowing people who were able to obtain health insurance for the first time to continue to do so rather than render it economically infeasible.

It’s accurate to say, for instance, that Obamacare is facing problems because health insurers are abandoning some individual markets, thus leaving consumers with potentially few or no choices when it comes to selecting coverage.

But what McConnell and other like-minded Republicans fail to add is their own inaction has undermined the system. Insurers are bailing out because of uncertainty over the future of the insurance exchanges developed to provide consumers with options. That uncertainty is the result of threats coming from the poster boy for incompetence, President Trump, who has talked about ending subsidies that are desperately needed to offset costs to insurers for covering low-income folks.

Simple fixes are available. But that could endanger the proposed tax cuts to the already wealthy and impose yet another roadblock to destroying the Obama legacy. And we simply can’t have that.

It’s still not a done deal. Republicans can afford to lose only two votes in the Senate. More than that will result in ignominious defeat. Several so-called moderates, like Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, are on record reacting warily to the GOP plan. But we’ve been down this road before.

History shows that Republican moderates in the Senate always cave in the end. Don’t be shocked if it happens again this time.

Meanwhile we can start another debate – is Mitch “Root ‘n Branch’’ McConnell really the worst majority leader of all time? Discuss.

Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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  1. Raul says:

    I just LOL’d my way through this whole fear-mongering excuse for an article. Republicans have been getting the Executive-shaft for 8 long years while Dems got used to winning. With the tables turned, Dems and their right arm, the Media, are whining incessantly. Conservatives definitely haven’t figured out winning yet, so I’ll hand that to you, Bill, but we are most definitely enjoying the liberal panic set-in.

  2. Marv Dunn says:

    Whatever one thinks of Mitch, he should never be underestimated. Mitch won’t bring it to the floor until he’s sure he has pretty much all the Republican votes. He will probably try to make deals with those couple of hold-outs and try to pass it this summer with the idea the voters won’t remember it by November 2018. If he can’t pass it this summer then it will go for a long sleep. He can’t afford to foist it upon the voters too close to the elections next year. Meanwhile, they will continue to chip away at the ACA ensuring its failure. That’s what really counts in the republican playbook.

    • Raul says:

      Hey Marv! Don’t start pointing the finger so fast to claim the GOP’s goal is to ensure the failure of the ACA. Dem’s wrote and installed the ACA 100%, accepting zero input from their GOP counterparts.

      So far, we’ve seen the following failed ACA promises from Obama:
      “If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan.” – Millions of Americans have had their health plans cancelled, some more than once.

      “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor.” – As a result of Obamacare’s narrow provider networks, millions of Americans are unable to see their own doctor.

      “We’re going to lower your premiums by up to $2500 per family per year.” – Millions of families have seen their premiums increase by double-digits every year since the law passed.

      “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits, now or in the future.” – Obamacare adds over $6 trillion to the deficit long-term.

      On top of the failed promises, there are currently 47 counties across the US that will have zero Insurance Providers in the 2018 ACA marketplace. People in those counties are required-by-law to buy insurance, only they can’t because no one is selling it there.

      The ACA is dying a slow painful death and that is the responsibility of the Left to own their failures. The GOP isn’t unified in their message the same way that Democrays are, so don’t look to them to fix Obama’s failures anytime soon either.

  3. ruth bamberger says:

    Basic health care is a common good. We could save ourselves a ton of trouble and money by financing health care through a social insurance tax, just as we do Social Security. Everyone pays in; this is
    Medicare for all. European countries have had universal health care for years, and there’s no reason why the U.S. can’t do the same.

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