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Bill Straub: So far, GOP has little to show for control, so killing health care may be the best they can do

Once again we are sadly reminded that there isn’t anything so terrible in this world that Sen. Rand Paul and his loony-tunes political ideas couldn’t make worse.

Paul, R-Bowling Green, has spent the last seven years in the U.S. Senate spouting gibberish, occasionally veering into the sensible lane, and then hiding behind his kookiness by shouting “freedom’’ and “liberty’’ at most inappropriate times, like a man with Tourette syndrome. And he’s at it again.

The Republican tax cut bill, already the worst idea to hit the national scene since the Edsel – New Coke not withstanding – is in danger of being rendered even shoddier by the Senate’s mad scientist. Having failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, “root and branch’’ as infamously promised by his fellow Kentuckian, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, Paul is looking to use the tax bill to gut the ACA like a fish.

Returning to Washington after an unfortunate incident with a neighbor that left him with cracked ribs and other discomforting maladies (and here’s to a quick recovery), Paul is concocting an amendment that would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate – the provision that requires everyone to acquire some approved form of health insurance or face a fine.

The individual mandate has been the GOP’s Great White Whale since the law was adopted in 2010. It was originally included to assure that as many people as possible maintain some form of health coverage. It’s also there to reduce the price of insurance – should healthy individuals be permitted to opt out of risk pools insurance premiums rise, thus increasing prices for those with poor health. This is called adverse selection, making shared risk almost necessary.

Without the individual mandate, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that premiums would rise by about 10 percent each year over a 10-year period. That would result in about 4 million fewer people retaining health insurance coverage during the first year of repeal, rising to 13 million by 2027.

Now, somehow, this sounds like a brilliant idea to Rand Paul and most, if not all, his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill. The Senate leadership, led by ol’ Root-‘n-Branch himself, McConnell, appears enthusiastic about buying in. Sen. John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, has said the upper chamber’s version of the tax cut bill will indeed include the provision favored by Paul.

In a tweet (and doesn’t it sound ridiculous when you’re talking about grown men and women “tweeting’’?) Paul said repeal would result in “bigger tax cuts for middle income taxpayers.’’

“The mandate repeal is a promise we all made and we should keep,’’ he tweeted. “It also allows an additional $300 billion+ in tax cuts.’’

Just to show you how bad this proposal really is, it carries the enthusiastic support of Paul’s newest BFF and golf buddy, President Trump, the 71-year-old enfant terrible who has hijacked the White House for at least the next three-plus years.

“We’re getting close!’’ Trump tweeted, referring to the tax bill, on Nov. 13 (somehow the word tweet seems appropriate when you’re talking about him). “Now, how about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further?’’

As usual, the facts have failed to get in the way of this president (and it still burns to refer to him with that title). A poll by Fox News – yes, friends, Fox News – released in late October showed that 54 percent of those questioned responded favorably to Obamacare with 42 percent expressing opposition. That same poll, by the way, showed former President Barack Obama’s approval at 63 percent with El Trumpo at 39 percent. But that’s another story for another time.

One of the fascinating aspects about this rigmarole is that Paul voted against the proposed budget that set the GOP tax cut plan into motion, complaining – loudly as usual – that the measure did nothing to address the nation’s ever-growing $20 trillion debt. Two amendments he offered intended to cut spending and lead to a balanced budget were overwhelmingly rejected.

Paul has made something of a career out of the nation’s deficit/debt, offering in the past balanced budget proposals that were rejected out of hand. Now, oddly, he is pitching an Obamacare amendment to be included in a tax cut bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will add another $1.7 trillion to the deficit over a 10-year period.

Similarly notioned lawmakers already have succumbed to the siren call of tax cuts regardless of their impact on the debt – hello Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty. And it’s beginning to appear that the grand high muckety-muck of all deficit hawks, Mr. Paul, is headed down the same garden path if the measure ultimately includes the anti-Obamacare language.

Just how Paul will rationalize this triple-axel with a twist after years of crusading is not yet apparent. Some lawmakers, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI, universally recognized as the most overrated individual on Capitol Hill, maintain, without a wink or hint of irony, that these cuts will result in so much economic activity that they will wind up paying for themselves. To quote that great philosopher, Wayne Campbell, “Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt!’’

The real question is why Paul and the Republicans might want to do all this in the first place. Obamacare, as noted, is fairly popular. About 20 million people have gained coverage under the ACA. Meanwhile the uninsured rate dropped to a record low 8.6 percent in 2016.

Under most circumstances that would be considered a success. But since it was achieved during a Democratic administration – with a black guy as president, no less – all positive considerations have to be set aside to portray it as a historic disaster.

Then there is the tax bill itself. Common sense dictates that cutting taxes in a deficit situation isn’t the smartest thing in the world. This mess, with the $1.7 trillion price tag, shouts that loud and clear.

Add that to the fact that the Senate bill will accrue primarily to the benefit of the already wealthy – even Root ‘n Branch McConnell now admits that some middle class families will likely experience a tax hike under the plan – and the whole thing just doesn’t make sense.

But Republicans find themselves in a corner with what is popularly defined as their base – basically older white people who constantly yell at kids to get off their lawn. The GOP has little to show for controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House this year, so achieving something to quiet the crowd is considered necessary and cutting taxes comes as natural to party members as falling off a log regardless of the consequences. Taking a dig at Obamacare is just a cherry on top of the sundae.

So Senate Republicans are basing their continued prosperity on killing a major provision in a popular program while simultaneously pushing a new initiative that has, at best, received a lukewarm response from the general public.

How can you argue with that?

Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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