It’s hard to be cheery when your government is being consumed by aspiring authoritarian kleptocracy.
Republicans are stealing a Supreme Court seat, unleashing polluters and bankers to do irreparable damage to the climate and economy, and masking wrongdoings that range from never-ending, petty soakings of taxpayers to what could be the biggest scandal in American history.
Put all that aside for a moment to pat yourself — or your local Indivisible group — on the back.
Twice in our recent history, new Republican presidents have stormed into Washington D.C. — even one who had lost the popular vote and was gifted the presidency by the Supreme Court — and achieved their first legislative goal with at least a few Democratic votes. That didn’t happen this time. The American Health Care Act, along with the GOP’s attempt to starve Planned Parenthood and the millions of poor Americans it exclusively serve of crucial public funds, is dead — for now.
Let’s not forget what this was all about: cutting taxes for the richest — who are at or near all-time records for concentrated wealth.
“The payout to the top 400 families alone was estimated to exceed total ACA subsidies in 20 states and the District of Columbia,” Harold Pollack notes in a Politico piece blaming the failure of the AHCA on the bill being a “dumpster fire.”
Taking away things workers need to give the richest gratuitous gifts isn’t just Paul Ryan’s passion in life, it’s the reason the modern GOP exists.
Reporters have called Ryan a “policy wonk” but AHCA revealed that redistributing wealth up is his only policy. It was behind this dumpster fire of a bill that not only repealed the Affordable Care Act but also ended Medicaid as we know it and cut Medicare. And it’s behind his stated passions for privatizing Medicare and Social Security.
Stopping Ryan from achieving his first step in undoing the achievements of Barack Obama, Lyndon Johnson, and Franklin Roosevelt sends a warning shot to conservatives who now must recognize they only had this opportunity because Donald Trump lied to voters about the GOP having an actual replacement for the ACA — and lied as well about his promises to protect Medicaid and Medicare.
For years, Ryan sought to sell cuts as “saving” those vital, beloved programs. Trump realized that they only needed to be saved from Ryan and the GOP, so why not tell voters exactly what they wanted to hear?
“Repeal and replace” became the GOP slogan simply because it was alliterative and it polled well.
SPOILER: There’s no real replacement because the marketplace portion of the law was the closest thing to a GOP plan for universal health care. The Heritage Foundation wanted to implement it for the entire system, ending Medicaid and Medicare, the most popular things government has done that didn’t involve storming Normandy Beach. Their vision of health care is AHCA — massive uninsurance as a matter of “freedom” along with few benefits to the coverage, in defense of insurance company profits.
Trump — as someone who has benefited from GOP largess toward rich kids his entire life — doesn’t know how government works but he knows how to sell crap.
Republicans never thought to pretend that their “replacement” would be “terrific” and fix the things voters don’t like about the ACA — high deductibles, unchecked premiums and the insurance mandate — because they knew any replacement they offered would have higher deductibles and less help from the government to pay premiums. Adding in a new mandate that went directly to insurance companies, and trying to pass it all in about a month, made the entire shit sandwich a perfect parody of everything they claimed.
And they would have gotten away with it if not for cruelty!
The bill was so cruel that not one Democrat even publicly suggested s/he might support it. But it wasn’t cruel enough to win over the Freedom Caucus, a group of 30 or so hard-core conservative white men from districts so safely red that even the local drag queens vote Republican. If not for the Freedom Caucus’ recalcitrance, Ryan could have rushed through the bill and served it up to the Senate to shape the mush into something that might have tempted even a few red state Democrats.
Yes, the resistance from the Freedom Caucus allowed a crucial opening for the left. But this bill didn’t become law for many reasons. There is Trump’s record unpopularity that made Steve Bannon’s demands on the Freedom Caucus laughable. It was crap legislation that reflected a dysfunctional party bereft of any appeal beyond lies and dog whistles to distract from its plutocratic agenda. And the party has just forgotten how or why it should govern.
But most importantly this, was a victory for the real resistance.
Because a Google Doc revealing what former Democratic staffers had learned from the Tea Party movement was released in mid-December became a grassroots groundswell known as Indivisible by March, because millions of people were ready to march on January 21, and then tens of thousands showed up again at airports to protest Trump’s travel ban, and at rallies to protest repeal, and because calls to Members to Congress against the bill outnumbered those for the bill by a margin of 50-to1, according to one count, this bill didn’t even get a vote.
Republicans in swing districts began peeling off — and the tremendous power of committee chairs and the White House to grease the wheels of legislation, which could possibly have swayed stray members of the Freedom Caucus and gotten the 216 votes necessary, were useless.
The fight over the sabotage of the ACA at the federal level has just begun. But this was a victory for a Democratic grassroots that has emerged out of pure frustration, passion, and horror.
It’s a movement that allowed elected Democratic officials to stand back and watch the GOP’s incompetence and invidiousness consumed by a firestorm of activated constituents. It wasn’t stoked by the Kochs or publicized by Fox News. So now the questions are whether it will continue to grow, despite inevitable failures and setbacks — and whether Democratic leaders are enraged, impassioned, and relentless enough to keep up with an activated political left with no appetite for compromise or half-measures.