For all their claims to morality, family values, and Christianity, members of the Republican Congress show a troubling hostility to the poor. Despite their professed piety — House Speaker Paul Ryan wears his Catholicism like a neon badge — they seem ignorant of the precepts of the New Testament.
Just look at the GOP’s approach to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill that is making its way through the House would, among other things, pare back Medicaid, which provides health insurance for those in poverty. The ACA encourages the expansion of Medicaid, and, as a result, millions of poor people now have health insurance for the first time in their lives.
But Republicans are aghast at the concept of caring for those in need; they view compassion as weakness and generosity as wasteful. While the GOP has been the party of the haves for generations, its recent incarnations have added a walloping dose of contempt for the have-nots.
The sainted Ronald Reagan spread the notion that poor people had less because they were lazy and that helping them just made them worse off. The ultra-rich Mitt Romney, for his part, characterized half the country as takers who didn’t pay their fair share.
Romney’s assertion included, by the way, not only the poor, but also many of those white working-class voters who gave President Donald Trump his electoral margin of victory. Those Trump supporters are in for a bitter awakening: They will also suffer in the new order, as some will learn when they lose their newly acquired health insurance.
Of course, very few lawmakers are impolitic enough to publicly voice their contempt for the less affluent. But every now and then, one of them is caught saying what he thinks (as Romney was when he was secretly recorded).
Just the other day, U.S. Rep Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, shared his condescension in an interview with CNN: “Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
Well, there’s a problem with Chaffetz’s comparison. First, most poor people don’t own iPhones. But if they did, the fancy cellphone would be a lot cheaper than health insurance.
According to Health Pocket, a website that helps consumers navigate the health insurance marketplace, the cheapest insurance plan available to a 30-year-old costs about $311 a month, or $3,732 a year. (Under Obamacare, government subsidies brought that cost down substantially.) The iPhone 7 can be purchased for less than $700.
Still, Chaffetz’s disturbing response panders to the racial resentment that has long been the animating force behind widespread opposition to Obamacare. Many GOP voters believe incorrectly that people of color benefit more than whites from the ACA.
Indeed, several researchers have studied the relationship between racial bias — much of it implicit or subconscious — and opposition to Obama’s policies, especially Obamacare. One study found that white voters who said they didn’t like the ACA were supportive of exactly the same plan when it was associated with Bill Clinton.
The fact is that more white Americans have gained insurance through the ACA than black Americans. White Americans, moreover, constitute the largest single ethnic group who benefit from Medicaid. Nationwide, 41 percent of those who receive Medicaid are white, while 22 percent are black and 25 percent are Hispanic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (The remaining recipients are “other,” Kaiser says.)
Trump managed to persuade a lot of those white Americans that he would give them better and cheaper health insurance.
“Everybody’s got to be covered,” he told 60 Minutes in 2015. “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
That’s not going to happen. Trump was too smart to ridicule the have-nots while he was on the campaign trail, but his policies are still going to give them the shaft.
Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: Don Ariosto / Flickr