The Last Cynical Gasp of the Republican Senate

Alan Zendell, September 19, 2017

I hate to cast this in terms of Democrats versus Republicans, but the Senate Republicans have set it up that way. They seem relentless in their attempt to set health care back on the deadly track it was on ten years ago.  For all the bluster, the arguments haven’t changed. It’s all about the money, stupid!

And that’s really tragic, especially in a country like ours that has always held itself up as the beacon of hope for the needy and dispossessed. Every year, millions of Americans face agonizing choices over the cost of health care. Parents without health insurance who have children in dire need of medical care that they have no way to pay for are running out of alternatives.

In recent decades their primary option was to “spend down” their savings and investments until they fell far enough below the poverty level to qualify for Medicaid, but the current Graham-Cassidy bill would so decimate Medicaid over the next eight years, even that option won’t be available to many. Having to impoverish an entire family to qualify for welfare to pay to save a sick child’s life is horrible and humiliating enough, but to have even that possibility taken away is simply unconscionable. It has no place in America.

Neither Donald Trump nor any of the Senate Republicans supporting this bill has ever had to make a choice like that. For them, it’s easy to reduce everything to numbers. They don’t have to feel the human pain and suffering. But wait – isn’t that exactly what their oaths of office have sworn them to do?

The current September 30th deadline to get the Graham-Cassidy bill done is based on a combination of arcane Senate rules and the very real burdens facing the Senate on other issues that will challenge our economy. Remember that first and foremost, the health care debate is about taxes, not the health of Americans. And if the situation weren’t dire enough, recent events like devastating hurricanes put even more stress on our national budget.

Our politicians never flinch at the cost of rebuilding and saving lives after national disasters, so why is it different when they debate health care? The quality health care for all that Donald Trump promised us comes at a very high cost, and that cost must of necessity be borne largely by the wealthiest Americans. They can sugarcoat it a hundred different ways, but the Senate Republicans know that the less the wealthiest Americans pay in taxes, the more people at the other end of the spectrum will die and have their families’ livelihoods destroyed.

Lindsey Graham posed the money issue in a different, even more cynical way, yesterday. He pointed out that 80% of the Medicaid expansion money spent under Obamacare goes to four states: New York, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland, a very unsubtle appeal to the very regional divisiveness that Trump campaigned on. Those four states represent the liberal, progressive establishment, and Trump made them the enemy of all hard-working blue collar Americans. I understand the idea of wanting other states to share in the federal Medicaid money, but when you couple that with shrinking the pot by close to a trillion dollars over the next ten years, everyone loses.

Ten Governors, five Republicans and five Democrats, have come out strongly against the latest Senate bill. Graham and the other senators pushing the bill say it’s really about giving the decision-making power back to the states, but those governors are the people into whose laps the problems will land if the bill passes. And every one of them rejects the idea. Their response is: “What good is having spending flexibility when there’s nothing left to spend?”

The simple logic of the situation is so clear, the only possible explanation for why the Senate refuses to give the American people what they want – an open bi-partisan debate on health care – is cynical beyond words. It’s their last chance to satisfy their greedy donors and lobbyists, who are the only people who will profit from this bill.

Can the Senate Republicans succeed this time? It seems unlikely. With their governors backing them, there’s no reason to believe Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski will change their votes. Neither is there a reason to expect John McCain to. He doesn’t even have to vote to kill this bill, all he has to do is not show up while trying to recover from brain cancer. And there are other wild cards like Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. With his own Governor, John Kasich, spearheading the attack against this bill and outlining the great harm it will do to the citizens of Ohio, can Senator Portman possibly vote for it?

This final attempt by the Senate Republicans is one of the most cynical things I have witnessed in politics in my seventy-four years. God help us if it succeeds.

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