Modern politics is a breeding ground for hypocrisy. As a member of Congress, a politician can fairly easily get away with voting against the ideals they claim to hold — as a general rule, the American public has little appetite for tracking the votes of each and every congressional legislator. Even if they did, a politician saying one thing and doing another hardly qualifies as newsworthy, so as a result, politicians are rarely held to account for dissimulation.
To be clear, hypocrisy is not a hallmark of one particular party; it is a hallmark of politics as a whole. Take Monday’s Senate vote on a $700 billion measure for military appropriations, which passed 89-8. Given that the outcome was never in question, this is the kind of situation in which anti-war Democrats could afford to vote their conscience without worrying about causing too much of an uproar. And yet, only four Democrats and one Independent — Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and You-Know-Who (I-VT) — voted “Nay.”
Among the “Yea” votes were Cory Booker (D-NJ), who only three years ago said the military spends too much on defense; Al Franken (D-MN), who has been criticized in the past for voting to cut military spending; and Chris Murphy (D-CT), who voted down an amendment last year to increase military spending, saying that he could only vote for it if the same amount were allocated to domestic programs. Last year’s amendment was worth $18 billion; this year’s bill was actually $37 billion more than President Trump asked for.
By voting “Yea,” Booker, Franken, and Murphy avoid opening themselves up to charges of being anti-military should they decide to run in 2020. And outside of a handful of critics, their votes largely went unchallenged; they’ve already been washed away in the constant flow of the 24-hour news cycle. The hypocrisy was worth it.
This form of hypocrisy is largely benign; they authorized a bill that can only help our military operations (in theory, anyway) by giving them adequate funding. The GOP, by contrast, is visiting a far more malignant deceit upon the American people. And there is no clearer example than the ongoing debate over the fate of the Affordable Care Act.
During the debate over the ACA, one of the most common complaints from the GOP was that it was rushed through with no debate and with no input from Republican legislators. Democrats accepted at least 161 Republican amendments, including allowing individuals, small businesses and trade associations to pool together to receive insurance discounts normally only available to larger corporations; allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines, and; giving states the freedom to implement their own reforms as they saw fit.
Even if this claim were true (and it absolutely isn’t), how can the GOP complain that they weren’t adequately represented in the ACA, then turn around and not only refuse to accept bipartisan support, but to even allow Democrats an opportunity to view the bill more than a week before voting on it? How can they claim that the process in 2010 was rushed, then turn around and attempt to jam through three separate bills in less time than Democrats spent on their one?
The hypocrisy continues. Ever since the passage of the ACA, the Republican refrain shifted to “Obamacare doesn’t work!” To be fair, the ACA does have its problems; nobody, myself included, would argue otherwise. However, many of the problems with the ACA are not underlying faults of the bill itself, but are instead the result of repeated attempts by GOP legislators to undercut the bill. In 2010, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that Republicans should try to intentionally sabotage the bill by “denying funds for implementation.”
And it wasn’t just empty rhetoric, either; in 2014, Senator Marco Rubio dropped in a provision to that year’s spending bill that severely limited government spending on risk corridors for insurance companies. It was incredibly damaging to the continued success of the ACA; from the New York Times, “The risk corridors were intended to help some insurance companies if they ended up with too many new sick people on their rolls and too little cash from premiums to cover their medical bills in the first three years under the health law.”
For the past seven years, the GOP has been using rising premiums as evidence that the law doesn’t work, when in reality, the premiums rose because insurance companies were depending on federal funding to offset some of their costs, and congressional Republicans welched on their deal. The instability in the private insurance market was caused solely by GOP legislation intended to undermine the ACA’s effectiveness.
That the private insurance market did not crash is, in fact, a testament to how solid and well-planned the ACA really is. Republicans have claimed that these risk corridors amount to little more than bailouts for insurance companies, so it stands to reason that they would do away with those entirely on their legislation, right? Of course not — the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives included tens of billions of dollars’ worth of payouts for private insurance companies. The only difference is, the GOP called it a “stability fund.”
Republican leaders like Paul Ryan claim they want an insurance bill that works for the people, but when they get one, they do everything in their power to cut its legs out from under it. Even Trump is threatening to stop payments to insurers — not because the ACA doesn’t work, but because it does. They are inventing — and in some cases, actively working towards creating — problems with the ACA that simply would not exist if it were allowed to operate as it was originally intended.
The GOP’s entire reasoning for their plans to dismantle the ACA is to give the American people more coverage for less money. Yet every time they introduce an alternative, it immediately becomes clear that not only does their plan not help the American people, it actively harms them.
Under the Graham-Cassidy bill, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the amount of block grant funding individual states would receive would be insufficient for states to cover the costs of subsidies to insurance companies; as a result, these insurance companies would look to make their money back from the consumer by charging exorbitant premiums to individuals with pre-existing conditions, effectively making health care unaffordable for millions.
An analysis done by the Center for American Progress found that someone with asthma could see a premium surcharge of $4,340 per year. Diabetes? That’ll be an extra $5,600 per year. Pregnant? Hopefully you have an extra $17,320 socked away. Rheumatoid arthritis? Sure, they’ll cover it; that’ll be $26,850, please. Your cancer has metastasized, huh? Condolences, but they’re going to need $142,650 more to ensure you don’t spend your few remaining years in complete physical agony.
All of this brought to you by the Party of Limited Government, where the motto is “Hey, it’s not the federal government’s job to decide!” (Unless, of course, your state wants to use the proposed block-grant money to implement a single-payer system to prevent you from having to shoulder an impossible financial burden just to stay alive. Then they have no problem exercising some of that sweet, sweet federal overreach.)
It’s all well and good to claim you want a health care system that works — everybody wants that. But that’s not what the GOP really wants. Instead of caring for the sick, they’re giving them the legislative equivalent of a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, all so they can squeeze enough money from health care to offer massive tax cuts for people who don’t need them. Oh, and that $700 billion military spending authorization? Half of that would have been enough to give Republicans the money they need to pass their tax cuts without consigning millions of people to a life of illness, misery, or medically-induced poverty.
The GOP’s hypocrisy on health care is not only reckless and purely politically-motivated — it is nothing short of criminal. I wonder if they’ll ever be held responsible.