Opinion: Repeal Process Reveals GOP Moral Bankruptcy

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at CPAC 2011. (Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons license. http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

At one o’clock Friday morning, it looked as though the Republican Senate might actually vote to repeal Obamacare. It had been a crazy few days.

After successfully passing a motion to proceed on amendments and debate Tuesday afternoon, it finally looked as though the wheels might be turning on the repeal process for the first time since the House passed the American Health Care Act back in May.

But soon thereafter, it became obvious that repeal was in jeopardy again. On Tuesday night, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which is the Senate’s counterpart to the House replace bill, failed. On Wednesday, a straight-repeal bill with no replacement failed by a lot more.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, bet all his chips on a last ditch effort: so-called “skinny repeal” which would simply repeal the Affordable Care Act’s coverage mandates.

Soon after its formal introduction late Thursday night, it became obvious that McConnell and company might have bet on the wrong horse. A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score showed 20% premium increases year over year and 16 million uninsured.

The Senate worked late into the night, and when the deciding moment came, predictable nay votes Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were joined by occasional and convenient maverick John McCain, who cast the deciding vote. The measure failed 49-51, and seems to have marked the end of the crusade to repeal Obamacare, at least for the moment.

But it’s important to understand just how close to disaster we came. Going about my business today, it struck me just how normal everything was. It occurred to me that perhaps most people hadn’t watched C-SPAN until 1:30 in the morning, and had no idea what had almost happened. We were within arms reach of a full-blown national catastrophe, and it’s like nobody noticed. It’s like nobody cared.

The last several years of politics have been exhausting, and they’ve been desensitizing, and I get that. But it’s frankly horrific that we’ve reached a point in American political culture in which one party can come within one vote of destroying one-sixth of the economy while the nation sleeps.

Every iteration of repeal since this process started shortly after the inauguration has been an abomination. Every single version has resulted in at least 16 million people losing coverage, and some versions have been predicted to increase premiums for certain folks by 1000%. Deductibles and co-pays have been predicted to skyrocket. A repeal of the individual mandate would likely send the markets into death spiral.

The ensuing mania would be nothing short of a crisis in the system, and healthcare experts have predicted that thousands could die annually as a result.

Let that sink in.

After complaining for seven years that the Affordable Care Act raised premiums and out of pocket costs, and that the markets were due for death spiral at any moment, and that death panels and other imaginary provisions of the bill would cost lives — the Republican Congress has turned around and made a proposal that would actually do all of those things!

In some of the most shocking hypocrisy not just in politics but perhaps in all of human history, GOP leadership has taken all of their complaints about Obamacare…and made them worse.

And that was sort of inevitable. Despite their (sometimes valid) gripes about the ACA, the Republicans were never able to offer legislative solutions to those problems. As in all things, the GOP was content to live in opposition, never planning far enough ahead to craft legislation that might actually do something that might improve the lives of the American public.

It’s a tale as old as time. But this time is unique in that Republican efforts wouldn’t just fail to make things better, they would actively make things worse.

And so we have arrived at our problem: without any moral center guiding the healthcare debate within the Republican Party, Mitch McConnell and company in the Senate were left to throw together a hodgepodge of changes hoping that something sticks.

Victory, not reform, is what they were after. And in a way, it’s hard to blame them: it would be incredibly embarrassing to not live up to their central campaign promise after achieving unified Republican government.

They’ve failed, for the moment. Pursuing repeal through budget reconciliation, an arcane parliamentary tactic not even remotely designed for policy like this, means time is essentially up for the GOP. What bothers me, though, is something deeper.

This process has confirmed what many have long believed: the Republican Congress is so morally depraved, so voraciously focused on putting points on the board, so devoid of anything resembling empathy for those less fortunate, they are willing and able to pass laws that hurt or kill thousands upon thousands of Americans. At some point we need to start talking about the moral crisis we face in this country.

A nation in which one of two major parties values their political successes over the lives of their constituents cannot long survive. The longer we refuse to acknowledge that Republican lawmakers aren’t simply our quirky pals with whom we happen to disagree but are actually malicious actors in a deeply broken process, the further into political darkness we will descend.

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