Early Returns

Republicans Behaving Badly on Health Care

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Republicans in Congress who are voting for tax cuts -- the measure cleared the Senate late Tuesday night and will pass in the House on Wednesday -- may be rushing through an underdeveloped, sloppy bill. They may be guilty of hypocrisy for increasing federal budget deficits after campaigning against them (although in my view their actions have been consistent, and I don't really care much about hypocrisy anyway). Economists almost universally don't believe that these tax cuts will have the economic effects that the bill's supporters claim will happen.

But I'm quite confident that Paul Ryan and most Republicans in the House and Senate sincerely believe they are improving the nation by passing this bill. I'm an outsider, so on-the-ground reporters might have insights I don't have from my distance, but I think the bottom line here comes down to a party that agrees on almost nothing but the positive effects of cutting taxes, especially on the wealthy. 

The same, however, cannot be said about the provision in this tax bill to eliminate the Obamacare individual health insurance mandate. In that case -- and in all the other ways that Congress and the Donald Trump administration have tried to depress participation in the Affordable Care Act individual markets -- they are actively trying to make the nation worse, in hopes that some good will come of it eventually.

I know that because that's what Republicans say they are doing. Bloomberg's Stephen Dennis quotes Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn saying as much: "Arguably, doing away with the individual mandate makes the Affordable Care Act unworkable." 

Of course, Republicans have been saying for some time that Obamacare was in a death spiral, with fewer healthy customers buying insurance, thus producing higher premiums, thus pushing more people out of the market, thus raising premiums even more, and so on. Trump jumped to the end of that line, declaring over and over again that Obamacare was already dead. While the exchanges certainly have growing pains and other problems, none of this has actually been true -- so much so that despite everything, enrollments this year were not catastrophic at all. 

Republicans had pledged for years that they would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. They wouldn't strand millions without health care. But they are now doing just that: repealing a key piece of the legislation in an attempt to collapse the individual market. Perhaps that will eventually yield new legislation after all. In the meantime, however, people without employer-linked insurance who don't qualify for Medicaid or Medicare may wind up just out of luck. 

Now, as it happens, it's also extremely unlikely to work. Like it or not, people strongly tend to hold incumbents responsible for government actions, and justified or not -- and now, it certainly will be -- voters will tend to hold Republicans responsible for whatever happens with health care. However, that doesn't change the political ethics involved.

I often call some Republicans radicals. This kind of thing is exactly why. Indeed, "radical" is a mild term for those who attempt to make things worse for citizens in hopes of benefiting from it in the longer run. It's a terrible way for elected representatives in a democracy to behave. It's bad enough when a sizable section of the House Republican conference attempts it. But this time it's a consensus position within the party. It's an embarrassment to the once-good name of the Republican Party, and they deserve to suffer for it. 

1. Kenneth F. Scheve and David Stasavage at the Monkey Cage on public opinion about taxes.

2. Ezra Klein talks to several political scientists about the tax bill. I'm inclined to agree the most with what Larry Bartels says here, although each of them makes good points.

3. Maggie Koerth-Baker at FiveThirtyEight about the tension between peer-reviewed work on politics and the timing of political events.

4. Yuval Levin argues that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "ban" on seven words is a lot less than it's been made out to be. I think he's a bit unfair to the Washington Post story, but he's entirely correct about massive overreactions to this mostly non-story by liberals. 

5. Stan Collender calls out Trump for responding to the Amtrak derailment by talking about the urgency of spending on infrastructure -- despite the fact that Trump hasn't actually bothered to propose any infrastructure package yet, and that Trump's budget requested decreased spending on infrastructure. I'm not really much of an opponent of hypocrisy, but I have to admit this is a pretty fair slam. 

6. David Frum on the challenges to conservatives

7. And Seth Masket on "The Last Jedi" and mentoring

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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