“It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.” That saying originated during the Watergate scandal but it has also applied in recent years to Congress.
The first sign that the new Republican health care bill was going to be cataclysmically awful was the way in which it was shuffled from room to room, hidden even from members of the U.S. Senate, as if it contained top-secret national security information.
On a futile search to find the bill last week, Senator Rand Paul detailed how it “was in a secret room…under lock and key with guards…there were policemen posted at the door, and we were not allowed to see” it.
Now we know exactly why Republican leadership was so secretive. Their bill is a slightly GOP-flavored version of Obamacare, only without Obama’s name on it.
It’s not as if Republicans haven’t had time to put together a repeal and replace bill. For six years, they’ve promised they’ll fully strike from the books the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and excoriated the law for sending insurance premiums skyrocketing, strangling small businesses, and causing people to lose their doctors and insurance plans. As recently as 15 months ago, Republicans in the House and Senate sent a bill to President Obama’s desk to totally repeal the ACA. When Obama predictably vetoed the legislation, the GOP promised to finish the job if they won the presidency.
So why aren’t they doing that now?
The GOP bill unveiled Monday night replaces the tax penalty of Obamacare with a permanent 30 percent penalty for anyone who has a lapse in health care coverage. The bill also keeps tax credits (though it restructures them somewhat), maintains favoritism towards employee-based health care, and keeps regulations and mandatory programs that have already begun causing insurance markets to collapse. It gets rid of the Cadillac tax, only to bring it back in eight years, and continues the massive expansion of Medicaid until 2020, which just happens to be an election year. If Republicans don’t have a backbone now, imagine them growing one then.
Instead of arguing for a free-market fix like inter-state competition or expansion of access to lower cost health care alternatives, the bill concedes the central premise of Obamacare that government should force people to buy health insurance. It simply shifts the timing of the penalty.
This isn’t a Republican alternative; it’s an unmitigated disaster for both sides of the political spectrum. While Democrats are predictably attacking it, conservative lawmakers and groups like Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity have also roundly criticized the bill.
Congressman Justin Amash dubbed the bill “Obamacare 2.0” and Senator Rand Paul decried it as “Obamacare Lite.” The Republican version “won’t work,” Paul told Fox News on Tuesday, because “premiums and prices will continue to spiral out of control.”
“People who have insurance can’t use it now because it’s too expensive on premiums [and]…way too expensive on deductibles,” said Paul. “In a real marketplace, the higher your deductible, the lower your premium. We [have] completely…broken the insurance marketplace.”
There’s another problem here that gets lost in the noise over the specifics of the GOP plan – this bill proves that all those Obamacare repeal votes were just for show. Republican leadership is not committed to free-market solutions, the rights of states to work out health care for themselves, or accountability in the lawmaking process. Just like the Democrats before them, Republicans are more than happy to host secret back-door negotiations that cater to the interests of corporations and solidify power in Washington without the sunlight of either accountability or oversight.
Consider how much time Republican leadership in Congress has allotted for reading these bills and adding amendments.
Last year, Congress was controlled and led by a Republican majority supposedly devoted to fiscal responsibility. Despite a promise by Speaker Paul Ryan to return to regular order, set priorities, put checks on executive overreach, and create line-item amounts for spending, all this was abandoned only months into his speakership. The House whiffed on the April 15 statutory deadline for a budget — a violation of the Budget Act. Then they waived House rules on other major bills whenever those rules introduced what has clearly become an uncomfortable level of scrutiny and accountability. Budget rules on major bills were waived 42 times since last year, or more than 25 percent of the time lawmakers confronted a rule restriction, according to a report prepared by the House Budget Committee.
Over the past six years, despite Republican control of both houses, only one joint budget resolution has passed. It’s been over 20 years since Congress passed all regular annual spending bills on time instead of resorting to end-of-year “shutdown the government or bust” showdowns.
Instead we get secret legislation crafted under lock-and-key, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and now the Obamacare replacement.
Bob Woodward famously said that democracy dies in darkness. If Republicans aren’t careful, darkness could end up killing their outrageous new health law, too.