You can’t say that Paul Ryan and his compadres in the U.S. House don’t learn from their mistakes. After seeing their first attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare crash and burn after a damning report on the consequences of their legislation put out by the Congressional Budget Office soured public opinion on it they passed a revised bill quickly and quietly last week before any such analysis could be done.
It was quite a struggle lining up just enough Republican votes to achieve narrow passage of the bill, so who can blame them for exchanging high-fives with our bombastic commander-in-chief in a White House Rose Garden photo op soon after achieving their hard-fought legislative win? Never mind the fact that the bill is not and almost certainly never will become law because the Senate is sure to revise it extensively over the next few months. You have to celebrate your little victories in life, sometimes even the meaningless ones.
Republican senators have in fact pledged to start from scratch on their own bill, and it’s likely some of the less-popular revisions the House wanted to make to Obamacare (especially the ones that would cause millions of people to either have to pay a lot more for insurance or lose their coverage entirely) will be watered down or completely eliminated by the time their work is done. What we end up with will probably be some tweaks to Obamacare rather than a true repeal and replacement of it – exactly what Hillary Clinton said she would do if she had been elected.
Anyone who was taken in by President Trump’s campaign promises about replacing Obamacare with a whole new system that would provide outstanding “insurance for everybody” regardless of their income level may feel a little let down by what has actually emerged as real world legislation so far. Those of us more in touch with reality recognized that promise as absurd and unfulfillable as soon as the words tumbled out of his mouth.
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Of course it’s easy for me to criticize politicians from my seat up in the stands, and I realize that this is an extremely tricky issue to deal with. We have arrived at a point where most of us consider health care coverage to be a basic right, one that should not be denied to people because they don’t have a lot of money. But the money to fund health care coverage for people who can’t afford it is not a cheap proposition, and we also don’t care for tax increases.
It is probably the ultimate manifestation of our general appetite for government benefits coupled with our distaste for paying for those benefits. Public opinion surveys consistently show strong public support for expensive government programs that help the needy, but the same polls show voters firmly oppose any sort of tax increase to fund those programs.
So here we are. Obamacare did help a lot of uninsured people get coverage, but it did so by raising taxes on some and requiring everyone to get insurance whether they wanted it or not. Repealing the tax increases and the coverage mandate were easy wins for the Republicans, but scaling back government spending those things were meant to finance is a whole other story.
It’s impossible to say where this will all end. As I am writing this column, news of Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey has abruptly taken over the news cycle. Congress now has to deal with its role in approving a new FBI lead and figure out how this affects the investigation Comey was leading into Russia’s role in meddling with our presidential election.
So now health care and everything else is on the backburner while everyone tries to get their bearings again. Hopefully, we are all enjoying the show, because we are likely to have a three-ring circus instead of a functioning federal government for at least the next three and a half years.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.